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Dear West End Producer: What do you think of celebrities taking lead roles in shows

West End Producer West End Producer. Photo: Matt Crockett
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In all honesty, I don’t mind – as long as they’re good. And sometimes even their actual ‘talent’ isn’t the most important thing – it’s whether they can get a show to sell. Famous people have a wonderful knack of being able to get people into a theatre who wouldn’t normally go – thus introducing theatre to a whole new audience (or a “whole new world”, as Aladdin would say). And if that audience returns to see other theatre shows, surely it’s a good thing.

Of course, having a celebrity in a show doesn’t mean it’s actually going to be any good – but just their name makes it more attractive to the public. A famous person onstage has an automatic star quality (or charisma, as actors who trained at RADA call it).

However, it helps if the famous person can at least do the job. We can all remember how awkward Lindsay Lohan was in David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow – sadly, as much as we wanted it, there was nothing about her that worked in that show. However, her performance didn’t deter all the audience – some people would have gone to see her if she was simply weeing centre stage for an hour and a half (in fact, that’s a good idea. ‘Celebrity Weeing Onstage – Live!’. It’s going to make me another million, dear).

It’s a two-way relationship for theatre and the famous actors. Famous actors can say things like, “This is why I became an actor, to smell my audience” – and producers can say, “We’ve got Nicole Kidman – for £90 you can watch her in a tight dress saying lots of long words”. So it’s a win-win situation. And for audiences, it allows them to brag to their friends about seeing a famous person up close.

But I’d love to see these celebs doing a theatre job somewhere else – it’s all well and good working in the West End, but would they survive doing Chekhov while staying with a randy landlady in Margate? I doubt it. Or instead of having them play the lead roles, wouldn’t it be fun having celebs being a member of the ensemble and only saying two lines at the end of Act I? I’d pay good money to see Julian Clary playing a second spear carrier at the Royal Shakespeare Company, dear.

It’s also interesting to think about what you mean when you use the term ‘celebrity’. I personally am not a fan of those celebrities who think they can go into theatre when all they’ve done is The Only Way is Essex – which basically implies they can speak in their own accent and sleep with all their friends. As a general rule, celebs like that can’t sing a top C while frantically ball-changing, so are of no interest to me.

This time of year is rewarding for celebs, as they get to charge ridiculous wages at pantomimes. Some are on as much as £30,000 a week – for just singing a couple of songs and saying the odd joke – when the dancers are on a measly £450. But who can blame them – if audiences want to watch them, and are prepared to pay top dollar – then we’ll be confined to theatres full of Louie Spence for the rest of our lives. Oh dear, dear.

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer

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