I’ve lately felt myself going mad. The theatre takes me to so different places every night that could it induce a sense of displacement and schizophrenia, not to mention occasional bouts of paranoia; but in the last month or so it has repeatedly taken me to the same place: the inside of a mental institution.
That’s been the case for the madhouse capers, in every sense, of Joe Orton in What the Butler Saw, now at the Vaudeville, where the shrinks appear madder than their charges; then there’s the imaginary 6 foot rabbit that is the title character of Mary Chase’s delightful, surreal Broadway comedy Harvey, that I recently saw being sweetly revived at Broadway’s Studio 54, which the psychiatric home try to free its lead character of; and an asylum is also the setting for Durrenmatt’s ’60s Cold War angst-driven drama The Physicists, now at the Donmar, that I caught this week.
Is it purely accidental, or a trend? Actually, once I started thinking aloud about it on Twitter, others reminded me that Michael Sheen’s Hamlet at the Young Vic was also set inside a mental institution last year; as is the current Alan Cumming version of Macbeth that is running at Glasgow’s Tramway under the auspices of the National Theatre of Scotland. Then there was the RSC’s revival last year of Marat/Sade, too.
Theatre is all about making sense of the world; and perhaps we sometimes need to look at it from the perspective of those for whom it is unravelling to help us to do so.
On the other hand, sometimes the world genuinely does seem to be unravelling and its not just the mad that it applies to. On a larger scale, there’s the economies of Europe like Greece and Spain, not to mention our own propping up of the banks in the UK in their at least partly self-induced crises of the last few years where the madness of their bonus cultures has continued to go unchecked even after taxpayers have bailed them out.
And on a smaller scale, there’s supposedly the madness of arts funding cuts that are undermining one of our key economic success stories, namely the theatre. In last weekend’s Observer, Tom Morris, artistic director of Bristol Old Vic and formerly of BAC and the National, wrote a feature that was headlined, “Without subsidy, our theatres will run out of hits”, and he argued, amongst other things, that those kind of hits are born precisely from the lack of commercial pressure — by being able to “escape the strictures of the marketplace”, he can work in “truly unpredictable work”; it also allows “those who care for it to keep our national heritage alive, even when the marketplace would let it die”, and it enables access to the arts to be maintained to “those members of our society whom the marketplace has failed”.
But it’s a marketplace that he now personally benefits from: like the heavily subsidised creators of Les Miserables or Matilda the Musical, his own role in co-directing War Horse is currently making him a very rich man. Like the bankers when their results were creating wealth, that may be a justified reward; but it’s also striking that when it comes to leaner times, the same beneficiaries call for yet more support. That’s a kind of madness, too.
It’s a given that regional theatres are routinely strapped for cash; so it perplexes me why a theatre like the Library Theatre in Manchester, whose own home theatre is currently being extensively refurbished so that it is producing elsewhere, has had to employ an additional external PR agency to handle its announcement on Monday that its artistic director Chris Honer is departing.
Especially when it has its own full-time in-house PR officer, who ended up sending me the release himself when I complained on Twitter that the third party agency had failed to do so. That surely defeats the purpose of employing them in the first place. That’s yet more madness.
Finally, even as the culture of advance bookings shrivels with people leaving their theatregoing plans to the last moment, it’s interesting to note the sudden flurry of announcements of shows way into the future. While Indhu Rubasingham’s announcement of her inaugural season at the helm of the Tricycle Theatre earlier this week has it fully programmed through to next April now, kicking off with the stellar casting of Adrian Lester in a new play written by his wife, the West End residency for the new Michael Grandage Company with five new productions at the Noel Coward Theatre is booking through to February 2014.
Meanwhile, a slate of major new musicals are looming on the horizon, with Book of Mormon and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory recently announced to open at the Prince of Wales and London Palladium respectively next year, and a formal launch for the Spice Girls musical Viva Forever being staged next Tuesday in London.
That all it’s own kind of madness and I’m looking forward to sharing it!