Theatrical clashes, crashes and try-outs
Peter Pan’s Lost Boys definitely pipped Our Boys to the post this week. I’ve often pointed out clashes in the critical diary in this blog in the past, but this week young(ish) producer James Seabright, who was 33 last week, found himself going head-to-head with none other than Harvey Weinstein, the powerful (and legendarily scary) Hollywood mogul, in opening a new West End production of the 1990s play Our Boys against the out-of-town world premiere of a musical version of Finding Neverland at Leicester’s Curve.
I wasn’t at the Duchess, I’m afraid, but at Leicester – and all of the West End seemed to be around me, from SOLT chief executive Julian Bird to rival producers like Sonia Friedman and representatives of West End theatre owners like ATG’s Michael Lynas, not to mention powerful agents and even Claire Sweeney. And though I’d quite like to see Lynas move Finding Neverland into the Duke of York’s – the original London home of Peter Pan back in 1904 – I suspect it might be a bit of a tight squeeze there.
But in the same week that Rebecca officially collapsed on Broadway before going into rehearsals – a Euromusical that was once being talked up to open in the West End before it crossed the Atlantic – it was interesting to compare the power and might (not to mention budget) that Weinstein brought to Finding Neverland, a show he’d originally announced to open at California’s La Jolla Playhouse last year but pulled just four months before it was due to premiere there last November.
And although I have, as outlined in my review for The Stage, some problems with the show in its current form, that’s what try-outs are for and they may yet be fixable. But whatever the outcome, it is of course, a major moment for the Curve. Though the fundamental design problems with this airport terminal of a theatre, as my colleague Quentin Letts brilliantly dubbed it in the interval, can’t be fixed without tearing it down and starting again, it feels like it is growing in confidence as a producing home in spite of its building, not because of it.
Just as some shows grow into themselves with time and tinkering, so the Curve is starting to feel like a venue that’s being made to work, too. I’m never going to like it, let alone love it, but I’m going to have to get used to it. With producers like Harvey Weinstein launching shows there, it could become the country’s leading try-out house.
Giving opera a dressing down
English National Opera – which doesn’t impose a dress code as it is – has earlier this week announced that it is introducing a new ENO Undress scheme. No, this isn’t an attempt to get Stephen Gough, aka the Naked Rambler, into the opera house (they’d have to get him out of prison first) but a scheme that, on four specified nights of the season, will make best seats available for £25 and a different ambience will be specially created, “with club-style bars serving beer and cocktails.”
As Alex Needham, the Guardian’s culture editor, tweeted about the new dress code:
But though ENO has always felt quite accessible, I’ve never felt comfortable myself at the Royal Opera House. I reckon that I’m a relatively sophisticated theatregoer – at least, as regular readers of this blog will know, I go to the theatre a lot! – and if I feel uncomfortable, where does that leave others? I once had a conversation with the Royal Opera House’s head of PR Chris Millard when I told him this, and he replied saying he couldn’t deal with my psychological problems.
That’s a classic deflection – it’s somehow my problem that the venue feels inaccessible, not theirs – but ENO are at least addressing the issue by taking responsibility for themselves to reach a different audience.
It’s not always the fault of the PR….
Theatre PR and the officers it employs to do the job for them are a matter that the public hardly ever hear about, since it’s a behind-the-scenes activity that’s largely conducted as a bridge between the venues and the press they want to attract to cover them. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve made the process a bit more public, with my postings about some of the inefficiencies that happen to undermine the process.
I never got a press invitation for the recent O2 opening of Jesus Christ Superstar, for example, and had to chase it; even when I did ten days before the event and was told, “just sending out the invites today mate”, it didn’t arrive. I ended up having to get my tickets through another channel entirely.
But I have to also own up and say it isn’t always the fault of the PR. Earlier this week I arrived at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre to attend the first night of the touring production of Ronald Harwood’s The Handyman, and realised as I approached the theatre that I’d not RSVP’d that I was coming, although the PR had chased me! But she was ahead of the game: fortunately I’d tweeted Joe Harmston, the show’s director, earlier in the day to ask what the running time was, and he’d told her I was coming! So my tickets were waiting. Phew!
Quotes of the week
Playwright Howard Barker, whose Scenes from an Execution opened at the National last night, tells The Guardian why – given that he doesn’t care for his audience’s enjoyment – people should see his work:
If you have a soul – does everybody have a soul? I don’t know – but if you do, then there’s a necessity for it to be exposed to things. Theatre is a safe place to expose it.
Actor Timothy West, asked in a programme interview for The Handyman that he is currently touring, if he consults his wife Prunella Scales about roles he is offered:
Oh yes, always, and I talk to Sam as well. We’re a family business really, a mutual reservoir of encouragement, criticism and sympathy.