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Miss The Swish

June 17, 2015

My favourite book as a child was “The Swish of the Curtain.” My favourite character’s greatest desire was to make the curtains in his theatre “swish” – open and gather in heavy bunches in the top corners of the proscenium arch. He gets his wish… luckily for him they even had curtains at all.

Such are the economics in the West End, that nobody appears to be able to pay anyone any more to do more than the legal requirement of “lowering and raising the safety curtain (actually a hefty bit of metal, more like a wall) in the presence of each audience” at the interval, and occasionally they even get that waived.

The official curtain-raiser at the start and finish of the show appears to have been made redundant, the material re-cycled as costumes or sold off to less fashionable members of the audience for their own outfits (I’m talking to you, lady in J26 at, well, never mind) and the entire idea abandoned in favour of “set worship.”

Yep, even if it’s just a piano or potted plant / actors warming up (mutually exclusive or combined, I’m saying nothing, make up your own minds), we are able to admire the static output of the designer’s art as we take seats, fold coats and shuffle through programmes for the name of this budding theatrical Henry Moore.

And frankly, it spoils it.

It’s been literally years since I’ve heard an audience gasp in appreciation as the curtain went up (actually, ‘in the business’ it’s known as the “curtain going out” – who said this blog wasn’t educational) and a particularly marvellous pair of…, er, scenic design was revealed.

Instead of going for impact, we are required to absorb the visual inspiration for the piece before a word is spoken or a sofa softly lit. It worked, brilliantly, for “Cats” – indeed, establishing us as guests in their world accounted for the long original run… but do we really need to feel part of Brooklyn before we meet Mr Loman and his family? And I might add, it really doesn’t work when you can see the actors trying to sneak into their starting positions either.

My solution is simple. If we can’t afford to pay anyone, ask for the ushers to select people from the audience. One using a mobile phone, one disturbed by it. You can probably guess the rest, but to spell it out – the knowledge that a quick trip to the fly-floor as a counterweight, transported by neck, may stamp out two irritations in one go.

The curtain falls (comes in. Like I said, educational, no?).

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