Apologies for the short hiatus in short shorts, whose absence was caused last week by the fact that my epic ‘Half a Century of Great Musicals’ ran across four days instead of the expected three – and stretched to nearly 14,000 words as it did so!
So it was the very opposite of short! But I’m back today with some pithy observations from around town this week.
A Theatrical Trip Advisor
Regular readers of this blog will know how bad theatre seating and/or worse sightlines is one of my big bugbears, especially at the prices that people are paying for the (lack of) view these days. So I’m intrigued by the launch of seatplan.co.uk, a Trip Advisor-style website which seeks to crowd-source data on every one of the 50,000 seats in the West End and offer personal views of the experiences customers have in each one.
It will require a big data catch to provide useful information, though, and the site has possibly launched too soon – it hasn’t collected quite enough yet to be truly useful yet. It’s also, of course, open to serial abuse from people with vested interests in having particular seats sold (like premium ones) – or other more mischievous parties who may want to downplay them.
That’s the trouble with democracy; it will come down to who shouts loudest (or posts most regularly). There’s also a lot of subjectivity when it comes to choice of seats, just as there’s lots of subjectivity around opinions on shows.
The site’s American founder Tim Sullivan has commented, “Anyone who’s had a night at the theatre ruined by cramped knees or a pillar blocking their view of the stage needs SeatPlan.” Since Mr Sullivan is 6’7″ tall, perhaps it would also be useful to publish his theatre diary alongside it, and which seats he’ll be sitting in, so we can avoid sitting behind him.
In fact there’s a brilliant site available – www.theatremonkey.com – that already offers detailed, regularly updated notes on specific seating arrangements throughout the West End, including great notes on particular hazards unique to the particular production playing now.
The current entry on the Adelphi Theatre, for instance, tells us:
Row A has been heavily discounted as “Day Seats.” Be aware that there are large flashing lights in front of seats here. SPOILER there’s also an extended finale stage SPOILER ENDS in front of A 18 and 19, making it perhaps worth taking 10 to 16 or 21 to 26 (in number order moving from centre outwards) first.
That’s the kind of detailed note you only get from diligent research. And Theatremonkey has been doing it for years. Theatremonkey also does a fantastic job of aggregating the myriad special offers flying around at any time. In fact I know of nowhere better to find them.
What happens when the star is AWOL?
But even Theatremonkey can’t sadly tell you if and when Heather Headley, the star of the Adelphi’s current show The Bodyguard, will be appearing. As Edward Seckerson has written in a blog, “If the comments coming into this site and the buzz around town is anything to go by, Heather Headley is more likely to be found on Twitter than on the stage of the Adelphi Theatre.”
Of course there’s no legislating for illness; as Ed writes,
Everybody gets sick and Will Young recently used Twitter to say how wretched he felt at having to miss a week of performances in Cabaret because he had no voice. Perhaps Headley should do the same.
A friend from America tried last month to see her four times and she wasn’t on. Finally, he booked in to see the show when she wasn’t off – only for her to stop midway through the performance and her understudy take over.
A new producer above the title
The venerable Michael Codron – the West End’s longest serving producer, with more than half a century of shows behind him – returned to town this week with his splendid new production of Simon Gray’s Quatermaine’s Terms that he first produced in the West End 31 years ago. But he shared his producer billing with a new name on the poster: Anthony Pye-Jeary (plus the increasingly prolific Theatre Royal Bath Productions).
[Dewynters] is a remarkably creative place, and helped brand and define a whole creative era
But though Pye-Jeary may have his name on the poster for the first time, he has been the force BEHIND the posters of the West End for some 40 years. First working as a PR, he was a co-founder of Dewynters in its current incarnation as the leading advertising and marketing agency in the West End. To declare an interest, he was once my boss – my first London job, from 1986 to 1990, was working at Dewynters, so I’ve seen its workings from the inside, as it were.
It’s a remarkably creative place, and helped brand and define a whole creative era of British musicals with its logos for shows like Cats, Les Mis, The Phantom of the Opera and over 997 more (according to Anthony’s bio in the Quatermaine’s Terms programme, the agency has promoted over 1,000 productions). So it’s great to see him above the title of one of his own accounts at last.
Phantom’s Broadway 25th
Last Saturday, Broadway’s The Phantom of the Opera – already the longest-running show in Broadway history – celebrated another milestone, as it reached its 25th anniversary year. (It originally opened on Jan. 26, 1988) As director Hal Prince, who himself turned 85 on Wednesday, told Playbill.com of the show’s long run,
Did I ever dream it would happen? No, of course not. I knew [from staging the London production] we had a hit, but, in the theatre that I was raised in, a long run was 1,000 performances. That was a big, big hit. Then, My Fair Lady ran five years. But [a 25th anniversary] is another world, and I’m happy to have been part of it.
Amongst the celebratory messages, I came across this brilliant summary of the show by Tina Fey (via Time Out New York’s Adam Feldman):
“Broadway’s longest-running musical about a burn victim who rapes an opera singer”
Another quote of the week
Glenda Jackson, comparing her life in parliament to her previous life as actor onstage and screen, told Yahoo News:
I was told I was replacing one form of theatre with another. I said if that was the case then the Commons is remarkably under-rehearsed, the lighting is appalling and the acoustic is even worse…
The kind of behaviour you saw in parliament would not be tolerated for 30 seconds in a professional theatre. Essentially there’s a lack of professionalism, very poor timekeeping, a great deal of wasting time, and egos the size of which I’ve never seen in my life before.
Acting isn’t a game. Theatre isn’t fun. People aren’t playing. It’s an extremely hard-working, very dedicated professional place to work, and regardless of the individual personalities engaged in a play, there is a genuine goal that everyone is attempting to reach… that the production is the best it can be. That teamwork I expected to find here, I found remarkably lacking.