On Sunday night I was at the Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards at the Palace Theatre, a properly star-studded event that proved just how much they’ve grown and how seriously they’re being taken since they were first set up 13 years ago as an informal challenge to that year’s Laurence Olivier votes, with website users invited to make their own choices against those of the official winners.
Since then, they’ve invited the public to help in the compiling of their own shortlist of nominees, and since 2008, have also now held their own awards ceremony and concert. In the process, they’ve become an irreverent cousin to the Oliviers (being presented this year at the Royal Opera House on April 28), but a far from irrelevant one.
But unlike the Oliviers, this is not necessarily a competition for the best but for the most popular (how else does one explain the appearance of Zach Braff’s risible comedy All New People on the shortlist for Best New Comedy, though at least it didn’t win).
Sometimes, of course, the best and most popular happily coincide – I agreed wholeheartedly with the wins for Rupert Everett for Best Actor in a Play (a vote he also got on my personal voting form for this year’s Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards – where he didn’t win, though!), Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball for Best Actress and Actor respectively in a Musical for Sweeney Todd, and Ramin Karimloo for best takeover in a role for Les Miserables (though I only saws one of the other candidates up for the award, so I couldn’t actually say for sure that he was the best of the bunch!).
It was also nice to see American Idiot win an award, though its nod for Best Regional Production felt a little shoehorned in since it was in fact a touring American production that only played regional dates here but was not actually physically produced in the regions here (unlike the other five nominees, four of which I saw, but which wouldn’t have had the voting power to win in terms of the numbers who might have seen them).
Boy George struck a chord in collecting an award for Best off-West End production for the ongoing revival of his show Taboo when he paid tribute to the cast: “Musical theatre is held together by people who do it for virtually nothing,” he commented. All of which is a sad fact of life, especially on the fringe, where Marvin Hamlisch’s Sweet Smell of Success was also seen last year at the Arcola and earned its composer a posthumous award for Best Original Score.
The latter was collected by his widow Terre Blair, who they said had flown in specially to collect the award on his behalf – though surely the fact that his most famous show A Chorus Line opens officially tonight at the London Palladium played a larger part in her making the trip. And Stephen Fry, collecting an award for best supporting actor in a play for his return to the stage in Twelfth Night, pointed out, “Seventeen years ago, I left this country in disgrace having run out of a play and I thought I might never return to the stage again”, when he was appearing in Simon Gray’s Cell Mates, but proving that his theatrical rehabilitation is now complete.
But amongst these and other triumphs, I am only slightly perplexed by the win for The Bodyguard as Best Musical – not because it doesn’t deserve it in the category, but because it is, at least according to Whatsonstage.com’s own stated rules, not actually eligible. According to the programme, “All professional productions that opened in London between 1 December 2011 and 30 November 2012 were eligible for primary Awards consideration.” The Bodyguard opened at the Adelphi on December 5 2012. Of course, it began previews earlier; but then so did Viva Forever, which began previews November 27. (Award co-host Mel Giedroyc pointed out that the latter will be eligible next year, by which time — she added — they will have finished re-writing it).
First a Farce, Now a Tragedy
Two stage hits of the 80s have recently migrated from the theatre to the cinema: on the one hand, we have the multiple Oscar-nominated success of Les Miserables, based the still-running show of the same name first premiered in Paris in 1980 and subsequently turned into a global phenomenon after being restaged by the RSC and producer Cameron Mackintosh at the Barbican in 1985; and on the other, we have Run For Your Wife, based on Ray Cooney’s stage comedy which enjoyed a West End run of nearly 9 years, but has now become an already notorious movie turkey.
It’s release last Friday was greeted with the kind of reviews that mark it out as a special kind of failure. According to David Edwards in the Daily Record, it’s “as funny as leprosy”, which also dubbed it ” an exasperating farce containing not one single, solitary laugh.”
In the Independent, Anthony Quinn points out that the comedy ran in the West End for nine years, but says,
This transfer to the screen is pretty much a catastrophe… It will be lucky to run for nine days. Perhaps never in the field of light entertainment have so many actors sacrificed so much dignity in the cause of so few jokes.
Charlotte O’Sullivan admits in the Evening Standard that she’d gone in with low expectations, but it was even worse:
I’d been warned that the film was inept and offensive but no one prepared me for the sadness. Run for Your Wife is crammed with cameos from once proud figures in the light entertainment industry. Prunella Scales, Russ Abbott… Desperation unfurls from their frail bodies like fog. To misquote Karl Marx, West End shows repeat themselves, the first time as farce, the second time as tragedy.
The weird thing is that I’m now dying to see it!
The Rise and Fall of Martine
Finally, there’s no pleasure to be gained from the modern morality tale of Martine McCutcheon’s rise and dramatic fall: a young woman who once had the world at her feet as a famous soap star (and an Olivier on her mantlepiece for her Eliza Doolittle in the National’s My Fair Lady, though her two understudies famously gave more performances in the role there than she did) last week declared herself bankrupt.
The largest creditor of Martine Kimberley Sherri Ponting (as her real name was revealed at Kingston-upon-Thomas County Court) is Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs; so she’s simply not been paying her taxes (and unlike Jimmy Carr, hasn’t found ways to avoid them legally). As that means that you and I and the rest of us honest taxpayers have effectively been subsidising her living beyond her means, my sympathy is rather less.
But there are interesting lessons to be learnt from her difficulties in sustaining her fame that would have sustained her earnings at the required levels to maintain the lifestyle to which she had become accustomed. And part of the problem, suggested Victoria Coren in a piece in Sunday’s Observer, was part of the reason for her success:
Like all great soap stars, Martine McCutcheon reverberates with personality. She is highly memorable, much bigger than the part that made her famous. In acting terms, she, along with Larry Hagman, Joan Collins, Ross Kemp and Julie Goodyear, is unlikely to be described as ‘a chameleon’. We elide them with their big soap characters, rightly or wrongly; when they take on a new role, we want to see them give exactly the same performance every time…
She traded efficiently on her big personality during the good years: she launched a pop career, released a fitness DVD, published two autobiographies and was ‘the face’ of Lenor fabric softener and Activia yoghurt (a logical combination for those who, like me, consider both those products much the same). This is not the traditional route to playing Cleopatra at the National, but savvy for someone who knows that likability is her primary skill. The problem is, to make a living in that hinterland between performance and reality, you need to remain exciting in the minds of those who like to keep fit, buy yoghurt and do laundry along with their favourite celebrities.
As Coren comments further:
The popular strategy for sustaining profile is to marry and divorce a series of ghastly people, selling the story to a glossy magazine each time. I admire Martine McCutcheon for avoiding that route but, having not done much acting work either, she dropped off the radar. There was nothing to talk about. So, it may be that this bankruptcy has a silver lining. It is the thing that all soap stars yearn for: a big plot twist.
She isn’t, of course, the first celebrity to fall foul of settling their obligations to the tax office. The Daily Telegraph provided this handy gallery of shame last week that includes Donald Trump (who has filed for corporate bankruptcy no less than four times, but not personal bankruptcy), Christopher Biggins (admitting that he ‘”began spending money when I was not earning”) and Neil Morrisey (who also makes an appearance in the aforementioned Run for Your Wife in today’s column).
The Telegraph quote a tax accountant Ed Thomas who comments:
Without knowing the background to this matter, one should not point the finger, but generally we are seeing several celebrities failing in their obligation to ensure that their financial affairs are dealt with properly. There is no doubt that they pay a lot of money to people who claim to be managing their affairs professionally. But ultimately it has to be the responsibility of the individual to make sure their financial affairs are up to date, particularly their income tax affairs.