Man­ches­ter steals Ed­in­burgh’s thun­der, hidden booking fees and understudies making headlines

Robert Wilson will be directing The Old Woman at MIF. Photo: Hsu Ping
Robert Wilson will be directing The Old Woman at MIF. Photo: Hsu Ping
Mark writes regularly for The Stage, including reviews from London and the regions, features and, since 2005, a daily online column.
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A week to­mor­row Jonathan Mills will launch his penul­ti­mate pro­gramme at the helm of the Ed­in­burgh In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val at an event being held at White­hall's Scot­land Of­fice.

But on the the­atre front, at least, it's un­likely that he's going to match the breadth and am­bi­tion of this year's Man­ches­ter In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val, helmed by Alex Poots, that was an­nounced last week. (When it comes to look­ing for a suc­ces­sor for Mills, who leaves after next year's Ed­in­burgh fes­ti­val, Poots would be a good place to start.)

While last year's Ed­in­burgh In­ter­na­tional the­atre pro­gramme, for in­stance, con­sisted solely of im­ports from War­saw, Ger­many, France, Japan, Ire­land, Ro­ma­nia, Rus­sia, Spain and a cou­ple of home­grown com­pa­nies with work seen else­where, Man­ches­ter In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val isn't a fes­ti­val of im­ports but of com­mis­sions and in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tions.

It's a star­tling pro­gramme, at least on paper, with ap­pear­ances by Ken­neth Branagh (in Mac­beth, co-di­rected by him­self and Rob Ash­ford in a de­con­se­crated church, and al­ready sold out, de­spite ticket prices the reach a whop­ping £65),  Willem Dafoe and Mikhail Baysh­nikov (in The Old Woman, di­rected by Robert Wil­son; I just hope Wil­son's friend Bianca Jag­ger doesn't plan on show­ing up to take pho­tographs), and Max­ine Peake (in a stage ver­sion of Shel­ley's poem The Masque of an An­ar­chist, di­rected by Sarah Frankcom).

There's also a new play The Ma­chine by Matt Char­man, di­rected by the Don­mar's Josie Rourke, and a new cen­te­nary pro­duc­tion of Stravinksy's The Rite of Spring with­out ac­tors or dancers, but in­stead cre­at­ing "chore­og­ra­phy from falling bone pow­der" ac­com­pa­nied by a 100-piece or­ches­tra.

Book­ing fees that are (still) being hid­den

In a re­cent fea­ture in The Stage, I called the West End to ac­count for its com­pul­sory levy­ing of small but sig­nif­i­cant ad­di­tional restora­tion charge which it rou­tinely col­lects (but doesn't have to ac­count for ac­tu­ally spend­ing) on the price of each ticket. Some­times, of course, you can see where the money is going, but too often you're pay­ing now for a fu­ture pos­si­bil­ity of fresh com­fort and fa­cil­i­ties that may never ma­te­ri­alise.

But at least the restora­tion charge is clear and un­am­bigu­ous in terms of its amount and in­ten­tion, if not its even­tu­ally de­liv­ery of the promise it con­tains. Last week, how­ever, the Ad­ver­tis­ing Stan­dards Au­thor­ity cen­sured ATG, the AKA Group, the Old Vic and Char­ing Cross The­atres for quot­ing mis­lead­ing ticket prices on their web­sites.

The ASA were ex­er­cised over the fact that the prices shown at each stage of the book­ing process aren't nec­es­sar­ily the check-out price, as sud­denly ad­di­tional book­ing and/or ser­vice charges are ap­plied there. Char­ing Cross The­atre rather fee­bly hid be­hind the ex­cuse that it didn't in­clude the com­mis­sion fee in the web­site price as the web­site "was also a ref­er­ence point for those book­ing in per­son at the box of­fice, where no com­mis­sion was payable."

Of course, it's easy enough to sep­a­rate them out and show it clearly, as the Old Vic – an­other of­fender – have now done: on their web­site, it is stated at the seat se­lec­tion stage, "All book­ings in­clude a one off trans­ac­tion fee: Book on­line - £1.50 (ap­plied at check­out) / Book by phone - £2.50 / Book in per­son - no trans­ac­tion fee."

When I checked it yes­ter­day, the Char­ing Cross The­atre web­site, by con­trast, still waits till after you have al­ready added your ticket pur­chase to a bas­ket to in­form you of the ad­di­tional £2 per ticket "com­mis­sion" charge. The word from the ASA has ob­vi­ously not got through yet.

The show must go on (de­spite the ab­sence of its lead­ing man – or lady)

Last Tues­day the pro­duc­ers of Top Hat held a press night for their new lead­ing cou­ple Gavin Lee and Kris­ten Beth Williams, tak­ing over from Tom Cham­bers and Sum­mer Strallen re­spec­tively. Only Gavin wasn't able to go on.

As The Stage's Paul Vale re­ported in his re­view:

In some­thing akin to a mo­ment from a clas­sic Hol­ly­wood movie, Gavin Lee - the new lead­ing man of Top Hat - is suf­fer­ing with a chest in­fec­tion and un­able to ap­pear. While we all wish him a speedy re­cov­ery it falls to reg­u­lar en­sem­ble mem­ber and un­der­study Alan Burkitt to take up the all-singing, all-danc­ing role of Jerry Tra­vers.

I wasn't able to be at the press night my­self as it clashed with the Don­mar's open­ing of Trelawny of the Wells, so had planned to go last Fri­day – but Lee wasn't back yet, so I was able to resched­ule. I used the free night in­stead to re-visit Kiss Me, Kate which I'd not seen since its Chich­ester open­ing night, but which was about to close last Sat­ur­day so it was my (al­most) last chance to see again.

I was look­ing for­ward to see­ing Han­nah Wadding­ham reprise her turn in the title role, but that wasn't to be ei­ther; when I ar­rived at the the­atre, there were no­tices in the foyer that the role would be played in­stead by Car­olyn Mait­land, who ac­quit­ted her­self ad­mirably (just as Lee's un­der­study had ev­i­dently done at Top Hat). But then Mait­land, it seems, has had a lot of prac­tice: after I tweeted about Wadding­ham's ab­sence, I got a cry from var­i­ous par­ties that they, too, had missed her when they had been to see the show in both Chich­ester and Lon­don.

2 Comments

  1. Nothing worse than booking tickets months in advance to discover that the lead player(s) are off. There’s nothing you can do about sickness but what’s happening with A Chorus Line? With premium seats at a whopping £97.50, a friend posted that on Saturday night, just two weeks into the run, there were no fewer than 3 understudies on. And one of the cast was elsewhere on the National Lottery TV show!

  2. Sometimes the understudy makes a better job of it than the Lead. I saw my Fair Lady at the National when Sick note McCutcheon had one of her many turns; Kerry Ellis was the understudy that night and wowed everybody. When it is a really big name, patrons should be offered a refund and a re-book, particularly when the understudy has to read from a script. When Judie Dench pulled out of a performance of Madame de Sade after tripping at the stage door, the resulting performance suffered so badly from the reshuffled cast, we really ought to have been given our money back.
    On ticket charges: There is a new scam that theatres are now operating, the tick box scam, where they add insurance pre-ticked or a donation to the theatre pre filled, hoping to go unnoticed by the unwary. Why should theatre-goers have to feel like they should contact the CAB after booking tickets?

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