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Professionalism on Stage

November 25, 2015

There’s one West End star, enduring, endlessly praised, and who will remain anonymous, but of whom I’ve never been fond. Why? Because I remember an early performance of theirs. An almost empty theatre, so the person decided to simply “go through the motions.” That was my very hard-earned pocket money spent, and I’ve never really forgiven them.

Last year, I attended one of the final performances of a West End comedy. It was clear that the cast were bored, and decided to muck about. I’m not talking the famous “muck up matinees” which are traditional at some shows. Those are done for the pleasure of both leaving cast and regular audience – and a lot of the changes are not really noticed by anyone else. On this occasion, the ad-libs and messing around were very much directed at us, and nearly spoiled a very decent afternoon out.  Compare that to the spontaneous (though carefully managed) panto bit at “The Play That Goes Wrong,” and it’s a fine line between being professional and not.

For me, a professional performance is one done to the highest standard the company can manage. Sure, not every performer is the best, not every play is great nor does a particular performance always “catch light” due to the audience or cast never quite falling in tune with each other. Even in those cases, though, if the cast are at least interested in what they are doing, the audience is usually won round.

When they go beyond it – noticing and responding to an audience (Brian Conley’s greeting two children he’d spotted, Michael Crawford playing a performance towards a box housing a disabled person etc – that’s amazing, but there’s also the simple things. Reader Bob Pickett suggested one, from a visit to ‘Return To The Forbidden Planet’.  He says, “We saw the Saturday matinee.  Friday night’s performance had to be abandoned, after Frederick “Frido” Ruth (who has played Aeriel the robot with distinction over many years) injured himself performing a move he had done many times, badly enough to be taken to hospital.

The cast played the songs for the audience, but it looked like Saturday’s shows would have to be cancelled. Until another member of the cast, Joseph Mann, stepped up.  He learned the entire role OVERNIGHT, and the whole cast came in for extra sessions to practice.  Armed with a nicely-crafted “Instruction Manual” (the script in a file that fitted with his robot costume) he took to the stage some 14 hours after volunteering and gave a great performance, rarely checking the “manual” and receiving a deserved standing ovation at the end of the show.  OK, he was not on roller-skates, but that would have been asking for a miracle!

I wonder how many other performers would have stepped into the breach under those circumstances?”

Professional? I’d say so!

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