It’s one of theatre’s perennial risks that an advertised star may be out of the show the night you go to see it. Given that it’s a human, live activity, no one can legislate for illness, injury or sudden bereavements, so of course the management have to reserve the right to substitute a (hopefully well-prepared) understudy, when required.
But here’s a brand-new development, and I only hope it doesn’t become a trend. Just last week Hayley Atwell opened to rave reviews in Jamie Lloyd’s production of The Pride at Trafalgar Studios.
In The Guardian, Michael Billington declared that Lloyd’s “superbly acted revival” improved on his original 2008 premiere of the same play, and attributed much of it due to Atwell, saying that the production
balances the two halves of the play better than his Royal Court original. Sylvia now seems a more pivotal figure, thanks to Atwell’s skill in forging a link between the wounded wife of the 1950s and the loyal friend of the present.
And in The Independent, Paul Taylor wrote:
Best of all is Hayley Atwell – a feisty, faithful but not supinely supportive friend in the modern scenes and absolutely piercing as the sensitive wife who has to wake up to the bleak barrenness of a marriage based on a lie.
But even though those reviews were only written last week, from this week Atwell is only in the show part-time. The Pride’s own website advises:
Due to commitments during the period of 20th August to 7th September, the producers cannot guarantee that the role of Sylvia will be performed by Hayley Atwell. In any case of unavailability, the performance will go ahead as scheduled with a suitable cover in the role.
What are those commitments, and how come she’s already being allowed time off to fulfil them? I checked her Twitter feed, and discovered this:
Shooting Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella in Pinewood this week.
— Hayley Atwell (@HayleyAtwell) August 18, 2013
So a film has taken priority over her theatre commitment, even one that is already limited to a mere 13 weeks. These days it is hard enough to get stars to commit to longer than that, of course, but it now seems that they can equally sneak out of even that short time that they’ve signed up for.
This was, no doubt, all arranged up front – but even so, how and why was it deemed acceptable? It does seem, however, that she is doing her best to get to the theatre when she can. On Monday, she tweeted,
Finished filming early so I WILL be appearing in The Pride this evening at Trafalgar Studios. Come join us! It's a fantastic play x
— Hayley Atwell (@HayleyAtwell) August 19, 2013
But it seems there may have been another reason she rushed back from Pinewood. As Mandrake reported in the Daily Telegraph yesterday,
Shooting schedules are prone to run over and Miss Atwell announced yesterday that she was going to have to absent herself from the play for the night, possibly two. Trouper that she is, she made it all work out at the eleventh hour, even though the play’s publicist had initially said it would be impossible. Why? The Sunday Telegraph was in to review it. “Hayley really wanted you to see her in it,” the publicist explained to the newspaper’s critic, sweetly.
Which is sweet for Tim Walker, who got to see her, and the lucky audience who happened to be there that night. But it is not so sweet for other members of the audience who book in good faith that they are going to see a rising star of stage, television and screen, only to find when they get there that she isn’t actually on.