No get out clause for Wilde flop

Daisy Bevan  and Jack Fox in Dorian Gray. Photo: Alastair Muir
Daisy Bevan and Jack Fox in Dorian Gray. Photo: Alastair Muir
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Look across the fringe and it's raining theatrical dynasties; Redgrave, Fox, Rigg – if you want to see the creme de la creme of genetic theatrical talent for half the price of a West End ticket now's the time to book.

Except for one of the shows it's not. I won't go into what I thought about Dorian Gray at the Riverside Studios again (I've written rather baldly about it here) but needless to say, it isn't good. While Diana Rigg's daughter, Rachael Stirling is on spirited form in Mike Bartlett's clever new play Intervention at Watford Palace, the youngest Fox and Redgrave are floundering in Hammersmith.

Dorian Gray is such a mess it's baffling why two actors with such powerful support networks would be in such a piece. Moreover unlike Stirling, who is an established actor in her own right, Jack Fox and Daisy Bevan (daughter of Joely Richardson) are making their stage debuts in this appalling play. As such they have been at the forefront of every piece of publicity going about this show, making themselves the faces of a production that has been revealed to be embarrassingly amateurish or even – as the Telegraph put it - 'ghastly'.

This isn't their fault of course, many an actor has been scuppered by shoddy directing. But I can't help question why they didn't drop the project once it was revealed, which much have been early on, that it was as far away from the acclaimed The Judas Kiss (starring Freddie Fox) as it was possible to be.

Perhaps I'm being naive to assume that this would have been an option. But to have signed such a water tight contract for such a budget production seems far fetched. Moreover where was the sage advice from their wealth of relatives during the contractual procedure?

It could be considered heartless to advocate the idea of leaving a company and show in the lurch just because you can afford to (heaven knows the PR would be terrible). But for all actors, dynasty progeny or not – it must be horrible to find yourself in a production that's steadily heading south. What are the available courses of action for you? As an actor you don't want to tick anyone off who you may want to work with again.

But while West End shows tie big names into less than successful runs with big sums, on the frugal fringe surely there's more flexibility than this. If not should there be? We can't offer the same remuneration, but perhaps we can offer the chance to work on shows you believe in. If a production is taken in a direction that is utterly different to what you were promised I think you should have the power to fight it.

Does this mean specified get out clauses? I'm not sure. Indeed perhaps I'll be accused of calling for a fringe of divas. Nonetheless the lesson here is surely – make sure you know what you're signing up to before you commit. I bet Jack and Daisy wish they did.

8 Comments

  1. Theatre is not just about money and contracts! Theatre should be about passion, expression and commitment . If any actor at any level commits to any production it is because they want to do the show. Inevitably sometimes their judgement is misplaced as they are faced with a poor script, bad direction, inadequate production values and also shoddy marketing support.
    Actors of worth that add their commitment to a ‘fringe’ production should be applauded and not ridiculed and we as an audience should support them.
    As always critics are one persons point of view about the production I am sure the venue managers, producers and team of Dorian Gary believed in the project and are heart broken that it has not reached critical acclaim but I believe they are attracting good audiences.
    All productions are about risk, usually expensive risk but if talented actors want to join in that risk then we should support them not question them and certainly not give them the opportunity to run off if they receive bad reviews!

  2. This article seems to be about highlighting the poor choices of well-connected actors. This industry seems to have enough mediocre celebrity spawn without a journo coming out to fight in their corner. A product of the irrepressible class system in this country, to be sure, but seriously – when will we get over it?

  3. This article is disturbing. Dorian Gray may well be pretty poor, I’ve not seen it. But Honour, you wrote such a great article “The Fringe Shouldn’t be Playing it Safe” 5/2/14 – a bad production is one thing but advocating get-out clauses for the well-connected will not further the cause! Is the Fringe just about reputation & being an industry tool? It needs to be something bigger than that. Both actors mentioned here are professionals learning their trade, is there supposed to be a class system which exempts them from that…

  4. I don’t really understand the reason for this article! Actors, in Fringe productions especially, work as a team, not as a disparate group of individuals. I can’t think of a situation where one or two actors have walked out and left their fellow actors in the lurch. It isn’t in the DNA of any professional actor I know and frankly, I’m amazed a journalist from the Stage thinks it could be. If a Fringe show isn’t about the money, it’s surely about the passion, the commitment, the chance to be seen, even simply about the credit, about being in work. I find it hard to believe that the Stage of all papers would suggest something so unprofessional.

  5. From Jack Fox’s twitter, it seems he’s anything but ashamed of being involved in the production (and neither is his brother – if only by association – who’s happily advertising the show and his brother’s great performance to his many followers). He might be deluded – and having seen the show there’s a case to be made that he might be, and let’s face it, he’s already amassed a nice little TV CV (amongst other things, in his brother’s TV series) and will continue to do so, so this will not scupper his acting career (and if his TV career takes off, it won’t even affect his stage career). But if he is aware of how much of a stinker the production is, the fact that he’s staying on, speaks for his professionalism if nothing else. It’s not his fault the cynical producers of this gloomy turd (excuse the mixed image) decided that building a show around two untried celebrity children would be a clever thing to do; he sees it as the opportunity it is to play a part most of his more talented contemporaries will never even be seen for. Part of that, however, is also that it might go belly up. Learning how to deal with that is ALSO part of being on the fringe. I left the show thinking I’d seen one of the most irredeemable disasters of my theatre-going life; never would I have thought that someone would make me defend its existence. So kudos to the writer of this post.

  6. From the preface of the novel:

    “Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.
    When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.
    We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.
    All art is quite useless.”

  7. All reviewers are entitled to their opinions and I have nothing to say against that. What does offend me is the idea that I would force actors to stay in a production that they have no wish to be in. How in any way would that be advantageous to company well-being and my own. I can assure you Honour that the script and our company was carefully vetted by all the cast’s agents and that all agents concerned have been happy about the presentation of their clients in all of our past productions. The entire cast have been passionate about the production and our take on it. It was very much an ensemble creation as this is how the company work. The company have enormous trust in each other and the work. Until we had reviewers in such as yourself we were a very happy troupe indeed. I think the two ac tors to whom you are referring would be offended to think only they would have the right to walk out – the entire cast would do so if they wanted. I have these two young actors entirely professional, dedicated and committed to the project all the way through. I can assure you that if they had any qualms they would have left. There is nothing to force them to stay. I am quite insulted that you would think otherwise. We do not perform for the critics but for our audience. Audience feedback has been most gratifying. And if you care to read some other reviews you would get an entirely different “picture.” I find the term amateurish offensive too. We provide controversial theatre on a miniscule shoe-string budget. All our actors and creative past and present slog their guts out for us our of love for our work. I’m sorry you don’t like it. Thank goodness you have freedom of choice to stay away in the future.

  8. I have only just caught up with this, via Mark Shenton’s blog today.

    I don’t understand why you would think that two completely untried actors, who are gaining valuable stage experience, would back out of a show just because it had got bad notices. The implication is that they are doing the show a favour by being in it, but the reality is that the director has done them a service by casting them and giving them this opportunity.

    It is worth bearing in mind that any given time about one actor in ten is actually in work.

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