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It’s a National Theatre Production

October 5, 2016

I catch myself saying it often, and it’s lazy, insulting to the producers… and, I’m afraid, often true, whether positive or, ‘not a National Production.”

So what do I mean by it?

Simply, when the National Theatre do anything in their own home, or move it to the West End or further afield, it’s always the same. No matter how good or bad the script, they put everything in to it, in a way that few other producers – Disney and Cameron Mackintosh to mention two – usually do.

You get the biggest cast, sets and costumes which are immaculately conceived and executed, lighting of the highest order and an overall air of ‘self-confidence’ like they’ve just graduated from Oxbridge via Eton.

Never do you seem to hear a producer murmur, “can’t afford the extra chesterfield / third fairy / 12th stagehand.” Sometimes, in fact, you wish they would hold back a little, as there can be a tendency to ‘overkill’ (“The Hard Problem” being a case in point, with scenes physically shifted so often, you started to notice which crew member had which job each time).

The fact is, though, it’s become theatrical shorthand, round here at least, for ‘they’ve put everything they have into the show;” and that’s the right thing to do, every time.

Absolutely any production, professional or amateur, West End or Little-Piddling-In-The-Wells Playhouse needs to convince the paying audience that they are worth watching from the start. ‘Looking the business’ is the way to do that.

If you seem well-produced, with confident acting and a director who has found something interesting in both cast and script, you can do no wrong. A fringe production with no more than a few chairs, or a musical with flying carpets – if it doesn’t look like anyone has taken a “heck, it’s theatre, we do the very best every night and hope you love it” – then there is nothing to believe in, and audiences won’t.

Yes, it works the other way, and “The Suicide” at the National ranks as, well, one of the rankest afternoons I’ve ever spent in a theatre, anywhere… but even then, they spent cash so that it looked good. Whether it was too late by the time the thing went into full production to call a halt, I don’t know (and of course, a fair few liked it), but the fact was, it was done with conviction.

Maybe that’s what I mean. If it’s good enough for the cast and production team to invest maximum time, effort and ability so that it looks the best it can, then it’s worthy of being shown to the nation. A “national” theatre production indeed.


No blog next week, back on the 19th October.

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