Inspired by an online discussion at http://theatreboard.co.uk/thread/610/angels-america-nt, where regular contributor Abby pointed out, “It’s interesting you mention the ROH/ENO as something that has always annoyed me is rich privileged people (not anyone here!) going on about how accessible opera is because the cheapest seats are £10 – they clearly haven’t ever sat in those seats if they think that’s a good way to experience opera, let alone dance. I’ve got to an age where it’s the best or second best seat or else I don’t bother because for me it’s just not worth being uncomfortable and frustrated in a lousy seat.”
I’d been thinking how to express that about theatre for ages, and I have to thank Abby for getting it out there so clearly. Quite simply, I think it really is all too often total rubbish about “making our show accessible to a wider audience” when the said “cheap seats” are going to provide an experience vastly inferior to the one those who can afford to pay for decent stalls seats are getting.
I always cringe when I see showbiz reporters trumpeting a potential starry hit that will be advertising “hundreds of £10 seats.” Sometimes, rarely, they are actually pretty good seats – ends of front rows or the back couple of rows of the stalls and dress circle, in the theatres that have a reasonable view back there. More often, though, they are the second and third balcony, and really restricted view stuff elsewhere…
The cynic in me suspects they are priced that way because someone has calculated that those seats will fill them with people who won’t know how to complain – but will remember not to buy them in future…
The result is that you get a first time theatregoer to come to the theatre. They sit in those grotty seats, can’t see or hear properly, and have to be winched out of them at the end… of course they don’t come back.
I grew keen on theatre thanks to “student standby.” In the days before “day seats” and discounts, you rolled up an hour before the show (longer, if you knew the play wasn’t doing well and they wanted every penny they could get) and you’d be sold the best available seat. That meant stalls and dress circle, and quite often if you were nice to them, you could even pick your pleasure, more or less.
When I grew up (Matilda) and had to pay full price, that was quite a shock. Luckily, even before I created Theatremonkey, I had the resource of all my notes to home in on the cheap but good seats – something I do to this day… and I think I could say from my 16 years online that I’ve helped many others do that too.
Once more, I wonder if the David Pugh philosophy is far better. “The Girls” has reasonably priced seats in all parts of the theatre, so there’s no need for a stunt discounting of a few cramped ones at the back. Prices are fair, and for a musical keen to attract a new audience, I think that will work very well.
Be interesting to see if others adopt this fairer, but less headline-grabbing approach. For the sake of building the theatre audience of the future by acknowledging successful method of the past, let’s hope it works and they do.
They’re here. Called by “The Stage” newspaper the “awards we’ve never heard of, and wouldn’t cover if we did,” by the Society of London Theatre’s Olivier Awards Committee, “the only theatre awards in West End that our governing body actively deny,” and the only awards in the world where the “nomination envelopes” are marked “return to sender,” here they are, anyway, as is traditional, most important first:
Theatremonkey Gold Medal of Honour. To Disney Theatrical Productions and Delfont Mackintosh Theatres. On June 13th 2016, a vigil was held outside the Prince Edward Theatre in Soho, in memory of victims of the Orlando Killings. Despite it being a vitally important performance of new musical “Aladdin,” Disney and the theatre owners replaced all electronic canopy signage with the Pride flag, and organised a silence within the building, matching the one outside.
A silk Kigurumi: To the make-up team at “Linda” at the Royal Court. It elicited a genuine gasp from me as the skunk outfit fell to reveal… very, very impressive.
The Kidney and Ball Valve: to Charlie Russell for that sequence every night during “The Comedy About A Bank Robbery.” Concurrently, a bar of Lifebuoy and toothbrush to the noxious 10 year old boy (seated behind me) making a disgustingly crude “skill to pay the bill” remark during said sequence at the performance I saw.
A personal “You, dear Boy” from the Great Man himself: to Duncan Macmillan and Barbara Marten of “People, Places and Things.” Writer, and characters of doctor / mother, neither got the Olivier they should’ve, so should get to be told in person.
A copy of “Zen and the Art of Stage Management”: to “In The Bar of a Tokyo Hotel” for a minimalist scene change. During the (unnecessary) interval, a stage hand comes on and exchanges the flower on an upstage table with one on a table downstage. That’s all, folks! Concurrently, a copy of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” to the London Coliseum crew at “Sunset Boulevard,” who put on a proper “Laurel and Hardy” act when trying to use too short a ladder to retrieve a streamer left hanging centre stage after act 1’s “New Year’s Eve” sequence. They did it, and the great British public duly rewarded them with an ironic round of applause.
The Oliver Twist Bowl (and Spoon) for classiest beggar: to Gemma Arterton, for her beautifully polite appeal for donations at the end of “Nell Gwynn.” Her leading man was running the marathon the next day, and hadn’t done much about sponsorship. Ms Arterton stepped forward at the end of the show and “knew that tickets were expensive” but “could we spare some loose change or notes.” No politics, just a plea for help. I went out of my way to do so.
A Dali Sketch (for most surreal complaint): to the person behind me at “Show Boat.” Julie was in the middle of singing “Bill,” when there was a rustling of a couple standing, and an elderly voice exclaiming, “we are moving because we can’t stand the smell of your onions.” Concurrently, the Fawlty Moose-Head for Inexplicable Behaviour to the person, several seats away in a row behind me, who managed to flick a hair-band across my eye-line during the battle scenes at “Henry V” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.
Livingstone Newt (For subtly concealing racism): to Lez Brotherston and team, for dropping the “N” word from the libretto of “Show Boat,” but cleverly replacing it with a Confederate Flag. Chilling and inspired staging.
“Two Paws on Shoulders’ (for nicest welcome to a theatre): to the Front of House teams at the Playhouse and Palace Theatres. At the Playhouse, warm first words for every customer at the door, ticket checked, and directed to the exact staircase – plus (on request) the nearest gents’ – all in not just efficient but a “glad you are here” way. At the Palace, a delightfully witty lady usher engaging everyone with a charming line in chat – and also a security team who assisted me with what could have been a slight issue regarding my bringing an essential dietary pack with me. Pre-arranged and worked on the day, deeply appreciated. Every theatre should be like this.
Dyson-Kenevil Wheelie for innovation: to Howard Panter and Adam Speers for the first ever attempt at West End “Stunt Writing” by getting Matthew Perry to pen “The End of Longing.”
Hyacinth Bucket Bouquet: to the Savoy Hotel for “moving on” an early arriving day-seater for “Funny Girl,” who was eating his breakfast on a pavement (owned by them) in front of the theatre while he waited. Their street, their rules, apparently…
The Shenton Suggestion Box, for review idea of the year: On the ticket agency londontheatredirect’s website, a “Show Boat” customer reviewer posted: “”The 4 main singers / actors were outstanding. Staging was good & cleverly used. Our seat with restrictions was great at the price . Shame there was not a final sing along at the end.” That was in July. Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II and Florenz Ziegfeld will have stopped whizzing round in their graves by now… probably.
The Rose (Bruford) for Most Fragrant Actor: To Joanna Vanderham (Lady Anne in “Richard III” at the Almeida). Her choice of toiletries continuously delighted the nostrils of all sitting along the aisles through which she made her entrances and exits.
The Keys to Arthur Daley’s Lockup: to the Theatre Royal Haymarket, for ingenious “dynamic pricing” of programmes. In July 2016, a “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” programme cost £6 Monday to Thursday… £8 Friday and Saturday. Hilarious! And hope it doesn’t catch on.
A melted Lego Brick (for terrible “blocking”): to Tom Sutherland for placing a key song in Southwark Playhouse’s “Allegro” on a high ladder… so that the view from my seat (A10) had an uninterrupted view… straight up singer Ms Katie Bernstein’s skirt. I looked away of course, but placing the platform just a few inches more centrally would have spared blushes all round.
An NHS Contract: to “A Pacifict’s Guide to the War on Cancer” for selling a programme, complete with hospital notes cover sleeve. If only the show had been half as inventive and interesting…
The Al Murray “Landlord’s Wave”: to Christina Bianco and the house manager at the Charing Cross Theatre. The performer tried bravely to incorporate a sozzled beyond reason woman in row C, into the show, before being rescued at the interval, when the house manager managed to convince the drunk to leave – peacefully and with almost imperceptible persuasion. There’s skill on both parts.
And that’s about it. Probably the only 2016 awards not to give Harry Potter anything for the actual play, but it’s about the whole experience. As audiences run riot, there’s still plenty to reward, so here’s to next year. See you in the stalls…
First Entry of the new year, and it’s a simple run-down of the best and worst I saw in 2016. Subjective as ever, and leaving out a few “re-visits,” the list runs as follows – in no particular order under each heading:
Out Of This World (SO – yep, a standing ovation from me. Many more than usual this year, and all deserved).
The Master Builder (Old Vic) (SO)
Funny Girl (Menier Chocolate Factory (SO)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Lyttelton Theatre)
People, Places & Things (Wyndham’s Theatre) (SO)
Show Boat (New London Theatre) (SO)
Romeo and Juliet (Garrick Theatre)
The Flick (Dorfman Theatre) (SO)
Titanic (Charing Cross Theatre)
Aladdin (Prince Edward Theatre) (SO)
Jesus Christ, Superstar (Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park) (SO)
Groundhog Day (Old Vic Theatre) (SO)
The Dresser (Duke of York’s Theatre) (SO)
Ragtime (Charing Cross Theatre) (SO)
Amadeus (Olivier Theatre) (SO)
Dick Whittington (New Wimbledon Theatre)
Oh Come All Ye Divas (Charing Cross Theatre)
The Wonder Years
Linda (Royal Court Downstairs)
Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Donmar Warehouse)
Bar Mitzvah Boy (Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre)
The Painkiller (Garrick Theatre)
The Comedy About A Bank Robbery (Criterion Theatre)
The Caretaker (Old Vic Theatre)
Sunset Boulevard (London Coliseum)
Nell Gwynn (Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue)
Cleansed (Dorfman Theatre)
Blue / Orange (Young Vic Theatre)
The Threepenny Opera (Olivier Theatre)
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part 2 (Palace Theatre)
How The Other Half Loves (Duke of York’s Theatre)
The Bodyguard (Dominion Theatre)
Richard III (Almeida Theatre)
The Deep Blue Sea (Lyttelton Theatre)
Allegro (Southwark Playhouse)
No Man’s Land (Wyndhams Theatre)
The Libertine (Theatre Royal, Haymarket)
School of Rock (New London Theatre)
King Lear (Old Vic Theatre)
The Spanish Riding School of Vienna (Wembley Arena)
Half A Sixpence (Noel Coward Theatre)
The Last 5 Years (St James Theatre)
Cymbeline (Barbican Theatre)
This House (Garrick Theatre) Cinderella (London Palladium)
She Loves Me (Menier Chocolate Factory)
As You Like It (Olivier Theatre)
Hangmen (Wyndhams Theatre)
Road Show (Union Theatre)
In The Bar of a Tokyo Hotel (Charing Cross Theatre)
Running Wild (Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park)
Elegy (Donmar Warehouse)
Henry V (Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park)
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part 1 (Palace Theatre)
Guys and Dolls (Phoenix Theatre)
The Entertainer (Garrick Theatre)
Ghost: The Musical (New Wimbledon Theatre)
Vanities: The Musical (Trafalgar Studio 2)
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour (Dorfman Theatre)
Shopping and F***ing (Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith)
Murder Ballad (Arts Theatre)
Side Show (Southwark Playhouse)
Dreamgirls (Savoy Theatre)
Saved By The Bell
If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me (Young Vic Theatre)
The End of Longing (Playhouse Theatre)
Doctor Faustus (Duke of York’s Theatre)
Breakfast At Tiffany’s (Theatre Royal, Haymarket)
A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer (Dorfman Theatre)
Oil (Almeida Theatre)
Macbeth (Young Vic Theatre)
The Suicide (Lyttelton Theatre)
Nice Fish (Harold Pinter Theatre)
Some really great stuff this year, and those many “standing ovations,” that were actually very much deserved. A few let-downs, and the three productions I liked least were genuinely excruciating to sit through, but it really has been a good year. If I had to pick a new play, “The Flick” is simply the best three hours I’ve had in a theatre this year, while “Groundhog Day” produced “Playing Nancy” – the finest new show tune in a decade, perhaps.
Coming in a few weeks too, the annual “Goodmonkey Awards” – rewarding the things other awards ceremonies can’t bear to even think about…
(Seen at the afternoon preview performance on 10th December 2016).
After the severe shock of Jared Christmas 2015 (vile, obnoxious little man, may he never disgrace the Wimbledon – or any pantomime – stage again); I’m overjoyed to report that for 2016 the New Wimbledon panto team are back on form, delivering the finest traditional panto possible, and then some.
We know we are in safe hands as the curtain goes up on a magnificently colourful “I Want to Dance With Somebody,” and Grace Chapman (Alice Fitzwarren) demonstrates a belting voice to go with the looks and charm required of a proper panto leading lady.
Arlene Phillips (Fairy Bowbells) and Matt Harrop (King Rat) make a poetic start on the story. Harrop’s beautifully judged timing gives us the perfect rat to boo for the rest of the show, while Phillips grows in confidence with every line – later delivering a highlight that has the whole theatre joining in, and loving it.
The first comedy spot follows. In place of the horrific self-aggrandising moaning of Mr Christmas 2015 (that had the theatre in shocked silence as festive spirit bled out of every door), joker genius Tim Vine (Idle Jack) makes a triumphant punning return from an “away game” (you have to be there). Mr Vine ensures that there isn’t a dry seat in the house, and, has the audience begging for more.
Likewise, panto regular Matthew Kelly (Sarah The Cook) does her solo stuff brilliantly as always (and the frocks, my dear, the frocks!) and better still finds a perfect foil in Mr Vine, their duo surely something Wimbledon’s producers should contract annually for the foreseeable future.
As title character, Sam Hallion (Dick Whittington) is lucky enough to pair with not one, but two special people. First, Indi-Jay Cammish (Tommy The Cat), his faithful friend. Cammish’s third time in the role, and it shows. Gymnast extraordinaire, mime artist, able to make her single “meow” carry meaning alone or as a whole rhyme, her every moment on stage is a pleasure.
Second, the already mentioned Ms Chapman ensures that the pairing are not only a stunningly attractive couple, but also well attuned, with voices blending and some highly believable acting too (I suspect a “showmance” for sure, here – another panto tradition upheld, if true). Paul Baker (Alderman Fitzwarren / Sultan) should be happy at the match – and if not, he is regal enough to do something about it… if he survives the terrible grape jokes in act 2 every night, that is…
Worthy of mention are the ensemble – Paige Albery, Rethea Coles, Daisy Darville, George Ioannides, Kamen Knight, Ella Kora, Ethan Tanner and Rhys West, who fill the stage with precision dance and some decent background comedy too. Also not forgetting the Juveniles – Blue Team from Doris Holford Stage School at this performance, who ensure “Never Forget” is an uplifting sequence in the second half (once they have finished loading the ship, of course).
Yes, this time Eric Potts is back on form with his interlacing of classic routines and topical one-liners (Trump and Southern rail – the latter obviously the bane of Ms Chapman’s life, going by her hand signal) and fascinating older material “Turn Again Whittington” and “The Lambeth Walk,” that the youngsters in the audience found as enchanting today as their elders did when first performed.
The whole is ably directed by Ian Talbot once again, with Mal Maddock and Steve Power ensuring the music flowed and Aaron Renfree filling David Howe’s glowing stage with dance energy.
Fabulous clean family fun, the audience buzzing and the feeling lasting right through the season. If you can get a ticket (there really are not many left), turn again to Wimbledon, where the stage is paved with gold.
Photographer credit: Darren Bell. Used by kind permission of the New Wimbledon Theatre.
And on that festive note, thanks for reading in 2016, and it’s time for a break. Hopefully, I’ll see you in 2017, back on the 18th January. Merry Christmas to Christian readers, and a Happy New Year to all.
For those who tried to get “Adele” tickets and found themselves chasing pavements instead, the usual reasons given in the press were that automated systems were sucking up the tickets before anyone else had a chance – by entering payment details faster than a human could. Further, agreements between venues and “secondary ticketing” websites meant that vast blocks were never on sale at “normal” prices anyway.
Now, last Thursday, something interesting happened. It was Theatremonkey.com’s 16th birthday – and thank you to the literally hundreds of readers who tweeted, emailed and posted on www.theatreboard.co.uk their good wishes, you’ve NO idea how much that meant – anyway again…
I also got an email telling me that (after the late, great, Paul Daniels, may he rest in peace always) my favourite magicians Penn and Teller would be in the UK next year. I’ve always promised myself to go see them, and since Las Vegas is out of the question for the time being, the UK seemed a far better bet.
Better still, if willing to use AXA ticketing, a priority bunch of seats were on sale. True, you couldn’t choose your own, and the fees were £2 more than the usual site, but even so… I went for it, and have a wonderful seat, £30 cheaper than just 2 rows in front. Delighted and can’t wait for my Miser’s Dream (I hope. If it doesn’t happen, watch out at the stage door is all I’m saying).
Point is, though, AXA have found a way to beat the automated system so far as entering personal details as fast as a machine can… while in the “waiting room” to buy tickets, you can ENTER ALL YOUR CARD DETAILS so that when you do get on to buy, just like the computers, it’s all there and you don’t have to do anything more once your seats have been allocated.
It speeds up booking too, as the site isn’t waiting for hundreds of people to fumble with the forms as well as selecting the tickets and dealing with the line, and the whole thing works. I was impressed (even if the total booking fees were, frankly, pretty high and imaginative – “facility fee,” anyone?). So, that’s that bit sorted. Next thing is to eliminate the usability of tickets to start with, making it pointless for a tout to buy them in the first place.
My latest suggestion: ask those customers who are interested to pre-register for an event, and upload photos of those who will be using the tickets. At checkout, once logged into your account (details entered), the user must select the photos of those attending – and the photos will be printed out on the tickets AND digitally entered into the database so that on arrival ushers can check faces and compare them with the online photo brought up on the entry device too, if there’s a question.
There’s no way to re-sell a ticket with a photo on it, nor alter the photo if it is going to be compared, and it’s another weapon, I think. Also, if I’m paying £7 for the service privilege, a personalised souvenir ticket is at least way of getting something for it, isn’t it!
I do still get the odd, “how did you get interested in theatre, when nobody in your family is connected with it, and you come from such an ordinary background” comment. Answer: my parents did love going to see live shows, and were wise enough to take me when I was very young.
Still, it did get me making a very simple list of things theatregoers seem to be thought of as being… yet I can’t relate to any of them…
Posh. Me? Blackpool chips over Beluga Caviar any day.
Grey haired. Well, half guilty, but its stress, and I’ve not dyed it blue… yet.
Alcoholic. All those “free glass of Prosecco with your ticket” offers. I for one am tee-total, and actually get angry when I get those offers. Add a soft drink alternative, please.
Clever. Well, I do have the certificates, but to understand even the most complex play you need only see a great production and listen.
Rich. In name only, and of course I know which seats to buy and where to get them cheap. If I can’t, well, the odd pricey one I think evens it out, but even I drew the line at £85 for “The Rocky Horror Show,” last year – Richard as narrator or not.
Stupid. If I pay for a premium seat without good reason, I may just let you have that one (see above).
Middle-class. If reading the “Daily Mail” (mostly for Fred Bassett, Baz Bamigboye and Richard Littlejohn) is, then fine. I’d say working class product of a comprehensive school is nearer the mark.
Obsessive. Guilty as charged. Well, one of out 7 isn’t bad, is it?!