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Designed For Who?

May 11, 2016

“Hamlet” at the Barbican did it, “Sunset Boulevard” at the London Coliseum did it, and many, many other shows do it too. What? Have designers who appear never to have heard of the concept of “put your set on the stage.” As a result, at least part of it hangs off in the wings, and some of the audience endure disassociated voices at crucial moments. Worse, while a few (like myself) are willing to accept it at “restricted view” prices – quite often even top price seats miss a bit.

I’m sure, when this is posted, I’ll get something from a designer telling me that, “of course we don’t know until the set is actually built, and is placed on the stage. By then it’s too late to do much, though we cut a chunk out if we can.”

That’s all well and good, but think about this… there was a show before yours, probably many, that employed similar layouts. If it didn’t work for them, why didn’t you learn from it?

There are millions of set photographs online, and I’m sure that with the few set builders, there are also thousands of blue-prints containing helpful measurements that could allow sets to be adjusted at the planning stage.

Producers would be happier as a set which fits the stage means more top price tickets and fewer complaints. Audiences would be delighted to see an entire show, and I’m certain that actors would be willing to forgo a crafty cigarette in a concealed nook for an extra moment in the spotlight.

While we are on the subject, directors have a role to play too – and choreographers in musicals. A show I saw recently (name spared to avoid embarrassment) managed to stage a crucial scene in such a way that only around 20 of the 150 strong audience actually saw it. Actors instinctively avoid (well, unless something went on backstage that we’d love to know about) “masking” (hiding someone else from the audience) each other, and a good director looks out for it – but why actively choose to conceal action, unless it actually does take place ‘off-stage’ a la Greek tragedy?

Perhaps there is a conspiracy to get everybody to see the show twice, from different angles? I’d love to, sometimes, but just don’t have either the time or the cash. You get one visit from me, as a rule, so make the most of it, I say.

It really is time that this problem was addressed I think, by producers, designers and directors alike. We do want to see the show – and by that we mean the show, the whole show, and nothing but the show, thanks very much.

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