So Loserville is losing the valiant battle of Kevin Wallace and his co-producers to bring a brand-new, British written original musical to the West End (but those producers are even more valiantly keeping it running through to the New Year so that the kids in the show, for many of whom this represents their West End debuts, are not out of work over Christmas).
And inevitably a cry of blame immediately arrived in my Facebook inbox, via a message from a well-known director (but not of this show): “Loserville is closing. Almost entirely due to those slightly over-weight, white, male, middle-class critics in their late fifties who closed it. Write about this, Mark!! Who the fuck is theatre for?”
It’s of course utter nonsense that critics close shows – in a brutal marketplace, shows are closed by producers (and more importantly their landlords, who can invoke break clauses to bring down the curtain and rush in a more viable product – in this case, rumoured to be Rock of Ages, which is depressing enough even when it is not shunting out a far more original and enjoyable musical).
As regular readers of this blog will know, I championed Loserville a lot, in fact. On the other hand, lots of critics – but not me – loved Betty Blue Eyes and that met an early death, too, even though it had a very powerful producer in Cameron Mackintosh, with very deep pockets. (Last week, incidentally, Arts Educational School in Chiswick staged a new production of Betty Blue Eyes with a bunch of their 3rd year students that Mackintosh and the show’s authors Anthony Drewe and George Stiles reportedly loved, and may yet give fresh impetus to offer a different, smaller take on the show).
Last week Bill Kenwright, who knows a thing or two about both hits and flops, told me
If you can get a production that the public claim as their own, that’s when you’ve cracked it – it was the public that made Blood Brothers and the public that made Joseph. You can’t fool them.
Now there’s no doubt that critics can help steer the public towards shows that they might not otherwise have heard about. But actually London was saturated in posters and publicity about Loserville, so it wasn’t our job to be the part of the publicity machine, or a failure of letting the public know about the show that killed Loserville. Nor were the critics uniformly hostile, either. Though the Daily Telegraph was admittedly negative, its readership hardly comprises the show’s intended demographic it was seeking to attract.
As my Facebook director friend went on to say to me:
Loserville OUGHT to be running and building the new audience. Critics OUGHT to understand that. Or the numbers decline will inevitably continue. And you are as responsible for the numbers as we are. Or why would we give you those free seats? Kindness of our hearts?
But the free tickets are not in exchange for guaranteed approval. People who write, produce and star in musicals love good reviews – who doesn’t? – but critics have to write honestly, from their own perspectives. Some of them may indeed by “slightly over-weight, white, male middle class critics in their late fifties”; but it’s also a willfully distorted picture of who reviews theatre nowadays that ignores a lot of younger and female critics.
Amongst them, Danielle Goldstein gave Loserville a four star review in Time Out that earned it a Critics’ Choice tag; at the other end of the age spectrum, Libby Purves of The Times took a nephew with her, and quoted extensively from him in her three star review.
Her review concluded,
To my ear the music is rackety, woefully unsubtle and utterly unvaried. There are 18 big numbers that all sound the same, except What’s so Weird About Me? in Act II. But what do I know? The nephew, my expert witness, assures me that mid-Noughties pop rock did sound like that, and was considered perfectly acceptable.
What’s unacceptable is for theatre makers to turn themselves into victims of the critics. This show was not killed by critics. It’s true that it wasn’t helped by (some of) them; but it was always going to be a tough sell. It had no stars and no title recognition factor. It only had a producer who believed in it strongly enough to bring it from Leeds to London, but not enough time to find or build an audience before other producers started circling around the theatre to claim it for something else.