I seem to have unwittingly ignited a welcome fight back by theatregoers and actors alike, tired of having performances disrupted by bad behaviour. Just the other day, a colleague posted on his Facebook account, “Hope never to be seated next to Craig Revel Horwood again. At last night’s Top Hat he offered a near constant commentary on the show from the overture onwards that was clearly audible four seats away - I know because I moved for the second half to try to get away from it…” Another journalist promptly replied, “You should have ‘done a Mark Shenton’.”
And on Wednesday night, Emily Tierney, who plays Glinda in The Wizard of Oz, tweeted, “Almost did a flying Glinda style Patti LuPone at the man in the front row who’s texting constantly! So distracting!” She then added, “Shame @ShentonStage isn’t in to give this joker a few lessons in theatre etiquette!!”
It’s everywhere, clearly: the West End Whingers even found it at the National when they saw Detroit, reporting, “Detroit ran at 1 hour 50 minutes without an interval so there was no chance to call an usher and stop the woman in the third row who was texting throughout the play. It’s pretty dismal the National staff or someone seated near her didn’t seem to do anything about it. Phil felt inspired to take up Mark Shenton’s cudgels but couldn’t locate her after the show. His mistake was searching for someone who looked like Bianca Jagger.”
One of the buzzwords that flies around a lot in theatrical circles these days is immersive theatre, a phenomenon in which audiences are pitched into the middle of the action to become part of it. But it occurred to me while watching the new touring production of Starlight Express earlier this week at Wimbledon Theatre that the original Trevor Nunn production, designed by John Napier, got there first, all the way back in 1984, and in one of the West End’s biggest theatres, too, the Apollo Victoria.
I don’t think anyone who saw it will ever forget the gigantic train set of a design that sent race tracks right around the theatre and even up to the front of the dress circle, on which the actors skated around in competitive heats. Of course, one of the problems was that too often the race would be invisible to the audience as it happened in other parts of the theatre to where they were sitting; so the design incorporated a live video relay of the races, too.
The new touring production, of course, can’t build race tracks around each theatre it visits; so the races are instead pre-recorded in 3D, for which we are issued with 3D glasses.
Unsuccessful shows are often rewritten and re-launched during their runs in an attempt to turn their fortunes around, in every sense; both Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Martin Guerre and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies, to name two, were temporarily shut during their West End runs to incorporate new changes to them and re-open to the press. But Starlight Express broke new ground in other ways: few hit shows have undergone more extensive revisions over the years than it has in an attempt to keep it fresh and up-to-date.
Nine years into its original run at the Apollo Victoria, Andrew Lloyd Webber reworked it, and as he puts it in a programme note for the new tour, “the new music was dedicated to my son Alastair” — and ran a further nine years. Now, for that tour, Alastair himself is credited with writing a new song, “I Do” for Pearl and Rusty, replacing the original’s “Only You.”
Earlier this week, I pointed out the desperation of one World Stages London production Babel in having to cite the comments of random members of the public in its quotes ad in The Guardian; now another World Stages show, Three Kingdoms, running at the Lyric Hammersmith till tomorrow, has quoted from twitter feeds.
At least the two people they’ve selected @MattTrueman and @DanRebellato are fully identifiable from their names, and both have some form as print critics, bloggers and published writers: Matt reviews for Time Out and his own blog, and Dan is an academic and blogger (whose blog review of the Royal Court’s Love Love Love I recently quoted from, too). But doesn’t the fact that the theatre find it necessary to draw quotes from beyond the normal newspaper pool indicate that those reviews might be less than flattering?
One of the questions I’m most often asked is how do the star ratings that are attached to reviews work, and what’s the basis on which they are awarded? The truth is that there is no universal standard; we each have to create our our indexes to apply them against.
We typically have five stars to play with — Time Out once briefly introduced the notion of a sixth star, but soon abandoned it. However, in his weekly restaurant column for the Daily Telegraph, Matthew Norman works with ten; and if it allows more nuance, it also means that the top accolade of a full house of ten out of ten is very sparingly applied.
So my quote of the week comes from last weekend’s column in which he reviewed Queans restaurant in Leamington Spa), and explained just how difficult the decision was - but why he was finally compelled to give it his highest score: “Never have I been so wracked over a score, struggling to decide if it would be insane to rank Queans alongside the magnificent Cambio de Tercio and Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner, recently unveiled as the world’s ninth best restaurant, with only my third ever maximum on this page. Since the mark is intended more than anything to reflect the pleasure a meal gave and the urge to return it induced, my conclusion was that it would be crazy to give it anything less.”
And finally, a quick reminder/plug for the season of interviews with leading figures of British theatre I’m hosting at Soho Theatre, These Are A Few of My Favourite Songs, in which Simon Russell Beale (this coming Sunday, May 20), Jeremy Sams (May 27), Howard Goodall (June 17) and Kerry Ellis (July 8), talk about some of the songs that mean a lot to them, a few of which are then performed live by guest singers Leanne Jones (May 20) and Emma Williams (May 27 and June 17), with Kerry of course singing her own choices on July 8. For full details and to book, visit Soho Theatre’s website.