Of course it’s all for the TV cameras and photographers. And the people that serve this hungry mob. PR folk seemed to virtually outnumber actual journalists at the publicity launch for Viva Forever! at the St Pancras Hotel earlier this week; but then big musicals like this are Big Business.
Never mind that the show hasn’t even begun rehearsals yet, or that a cast has not been formally announced; it’s all about the spin. Just as Apple do an annual new product launch, this was all about selling the sizzle — as the video that accompanied the event was mysteriously called more than once by producer Judy Craymer while introducing it.
And that offscreen sizzle included an onstage appearance by all five of the Spice Girls — reunited at the same hotel where the video for their first hit single was filmed back in 1996 — and included an unsmiling Victoria Beckham. (Is there any other sort?) They didn’t sing; in fact they barely spoke, except to answer a few anodyne questions about how they felt about the show — but it was enough that they were there, endorsing it all with their presence.
The group photo duly made the front page of Wednesday’s Sun and Evening Standard, as well as the front page of The Stage. Holding a press conference and flying a few Spice Girls around the world is small beer (or pina colada cocktails) compared to taking out a front page ad would have been. But for those of us who had already seen the press release, there was no new information. Just a free tee-shirt with the show’s Olympic-like logo of a woman looking like she’s bursting out of a Union Jack to take home after. It may yet turn out to be a collectors’ item, at least.
Ticket prices on the Edinburgh Fringe have not been immune to serious inflation (even as the shows themselves have got shorter; comedy shows, which now cost up to £20 a ticket, typically run just an hour); but one show that’s not in the Fringe brochure but is landing at the Playhouse in Edinburgh in the start of the fringe to capitalise on the captive comedy audience is Michael McIntyre, who’ll be fine-tuning his forthcoming arena tour with a two-night run for which tickets are being sold at a one-price-fits-all £31 a ticket for what are being billed as “works-in-progress” nights.
As Brian Donaldson has pointed out in The List, the local listings title, “Of course, they’ll sell out (if they haven’t entirely shifted already) thus depriving those struggling comedians crawling up and down the Royal Mile just about mustering the strength to force a rain-soaked flyer into a Belgian’s hand. Were any tickets left on sale for it, you could have seen Daniel Kitson’s new show three times for that sum.”
David Lister, arts editor of the Independent, regularly rails in his weekly Saturday column against iniquitous add-on booking fees. As a theatre critic who gets most of my tickets for free, we are of course mostly immune to those hidden extras, though I have observed with despair the inexorable rise of the ticket prices themselves, and the new ‘premium price’ strategy that means that early bookers who are the bread-and-butter of the West End theatre audience are in fact penalised into no longer being able to buy the best seats in the house for their early investment in a show, since those have already been roped off for later sale to people prepared to stump up the extra for the premiums. It’s like a big red rope has been put up inside theatres, promising exclusivity to those with the ready cash to pay for it.
But my attention has been drawn to the crazy per ticket fees being charged for the forthcoming arena stage tour of Jesus Christ Superstar that makes me want to join Lister’s campaign now. To buy the top £65 price seats to see it at the 02 Arena, for instance, incurs an extra £8.45 per ticket charge. For the cheapest £45 tickets, the booking charge is an extra £6.85.
Quite how and why these charges are justified defeats me. Especially in an age of internet booking, the customer is doing most of the work themselves. Sure, there’s a back office cost to managing the computer systems that run the bookings; but surely not £8.45 per ticket worth. It’s just an old-fashioned rip-off.
Quote of the week: Caroline McGinn, writing in Time Out, applauds the £10 tickets being offered for the Michael Grandage West End season at the Noel Coward Theatre: “What does a tenner buy you in a West End theatre? Not much: the rise in price of ‘cheap’ seats means you’ll fork out up to £25 for the privilege of craning your neck in the gods. Sadly, £10 no longer buys a circle seat at the heavily subbed National Theatre, which put its fantastic Travelex-sponsored cheap seats up to £12 last year. And don’t get me started on theatre bars, where your hard-earned tenner undergoes a process of commercial transubstantiation into a few hundred milliliters of warm cat’s piss (which is, I wearily surmise after many nights of disappointment, what ‘posh’ West End theatres serve under the title of house white). £10 tickets are a revolution that the middle-aged, middle-class and often MOR West End is sorely in need of. In fact, in the current market of ‘overprice first, discount later’, a 15-month season which will sell, upfront, more than 100,000 £10 tickets to plays starring Daniel Radcliffe, Judi Dench and David Walliams, with cheap seats sprinkled through the stalls as well as the circle, looks like nothing short of a miracle.”