In Sondheim’s immortal “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company, Joanne famously sings of a certain type of women’s desperate attempts to fill their days:
Another long exhausting day,
Another thousand dollars,
A matinee, a Pinter play,
Perhaps a piece of Mahler’s.
I’ll drink to that.
And one for Mahler!
Notwithstanding Elaine Stritch’s hilarious admission that when she first sang the song, she thought Mahler’s was a type of cheesecake, I always think of the song when I go to matinees — not least when they’re Pinter plays.
The other day the Guardian’s Michael Billington tweeted, “Let’s hear it for the much-mocked matinee. Have recently been to a couple and find actors and audience much fresher than in the evenings.”
I see a lot of matinees, too — partly at the moment because the schedule is so crazily busy that it’s the only way I can (try to) catch up. Just yesterday I saw Martin Sherman’s Passing By at the Finborough, which only performs Sunday and Monday nights and Tuesday matinees, so it was one of the few opportunities to see this rarely-seen play. And tomorrow afternoon I’m catching Roger Rees’s solo show What You Will, which opened on Tuesday night but I was at Brighton, reviewing the new production of Blue/Orange.
But I also like matinees. Partly its the change of temperature — it feels less pressurised for everyone. People who go to matinees aren’t generally rushing there after a hard day at the office. Of course, in my case I’m avoiding the office, so it has the added frisson of feeling like I’m skiving a little. Although of course I’m not — it’s also a big part of my job to go to the theatre, though of course that’s the most pleasurable part of my job. The harder graft is actually tying myself to my desk to write about it! (Though I enjoy that, too).
I’m fresher for matinees, too, even if the rest of the audience often isn’t. I enjoy watching the sight of nodding heads all around me at them. But more than that, I’m thrilled that they come at all. Matinees, which used to be draughty affairs where there would be small, cozy audiences, are I find these days often the busiest I go to.
Audiences seem to appreciate the convenience factor; it’s also easier, for out-of-towners, to get to the theatre and home again on a sensible train. And, working in reverse as a Londoner, I find getting to out-of-town matinees can be a good way of being able to get home myself easily from there.
Or perhaps it’s just a sign of my (and Billington’s) own advancing age that we relish the matinee. It’s a welcome antidote to the rat-race of life.