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Small Shows are Best.

February 10, 2016

It’s true. Look at the list of longest running shows in the West End, and it is almost always the tiniest shows that have lasted. “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Misérables,” “The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time,” “War Horse.”

“But all have casts of thousands,” I hear the cry.

Yes, they do… but the shows themselves concentrate on a single person or at most just two.

Even old Bill the Quill knew it. His biggest hits, “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth,” “Hamlet” all have the clue in the title. Yes, I know each has a sub-title and description, but we know them by the name, and it’s a single word or three.

Success comes through making us believe completely in a single person, and identify thereafter with everyone else they interact with. We follow a single story, to the end, and feel we have been on a journey of life in which we can recognise a little of ourselves.

I guess, if we are being practical, then solo shows or “two handers” are also more commercially viable as well, from a staging view. Again, though, the same rules apply.

In the West End, I’d also venture to suggest that audiences, tired after a day at work, are rather pleased to be lead by a single person. As the greatest living comedian (and I’ll not enter into debate) Ken Dodd explains, simply build bridges from the stage to the audience in the first few minutes, and “you’ve got ‘em” for the rest of the night (or week, in his case).

A show isn’t always there to “make ‘em laugh,” and making us cry (for reasons other than the ticket price) is equally effective; but it is there to make us feel. Happy or sad, the fact a new emotion is stimulated is the thing – and ‘one-on-one’ has to be the best way (easy, vicar, I’m talking acting).

At “Cats” last November, I was sitting in the front row, aisle seat, when a dancer caught my attention by staring into my eyes and reciting part of “The Naming of Cats.” We found ourselves in “eye-lock,” to such an extent that her 4 lines to me became so intimate that the show vanished from between us. A powerful moment that had me gasp “really?” as she ended her story, I acknowledged her message and she finally broke to move back to the stage.

Single moments, breaking the vast to the tiny. That’s theatre, I think. Small is beautiful. The End.

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