Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Dear West End Producer: ‘What are your thoughts on all-star casting?’

by -

If I ever see a production advertised as having an “all-star cast”, I feel nauseous. It takes me back to days of watching the end-of-pier shows in Blackpool, when we’d be forced to sit and suck on a never-ending supply of candy-floss while staring inanely at actors who once appeared in Z-Cars or On the Buses. The same applies these days – many times I’ve had to endure two hours of a so-called ‘star’ attempting to enter and exit the stage without looking like a blow-up doll.

The term “all-star cast” is basically used to sell tickets. It is a guarantee that even if the show is awful (which it invariably is), then at least you can tell your friends that you saw someone ‘off the telly’, meaning the whole experience wasn’t a complete waste of money.

But what makes a star these days? And what sort of show relies on promoting itself that way?

The term ‘celebrity’ in 2018 can be attached to anyone who has been on a reality TV show, pouted in a bikini in Heat magazine, or who has walked off Loose Women. It can be short-lived, and badly earned – with people often entering the business only to be a celebrity. And it makes me bloody annoyed. Theatre and acting is a craft that can be life-changing when done properly – by real actors – not by desperate Instagram-filter-fakers.

Stars and celebrities can be put into certain categories: A-listers: superstars; B-listers: been in a couple of films; C-listers: been on a soap; D-listers: used to do telly, now only do bad theatre tours; and Z-listers: used to be big, but now just do low-class panto (and the odd episode of Midsomer Murders). Perhaps what’s needed is a classification category as to what type of ‘star’ is performing in the show – “with an all D-list star cast” for example.

Andrzej Lukowski: In defence of Tanya Burr

Shows that rely on star casting are usually pretty shoddy productions that need the celebs to get bums on seats. The kind of shows that come to mind are regional tours of things such as Murder in the Abbey, A Murder Is Announced, Murder in the Cockpit, and Murder in the Field Next to the Tractor (basically anything with the word ‘murder’ in it).

However, I’m not saying it’s all bad. If having Z-list stars means people go to the theatre then I’m all for it – particularly if I’m the producer (Z-list stars are substantially cheaper than A-list ones. You can’t get Michael Ball to sing Anthem for less than £20-a-time these days, dear). It’s just a shame that we can’t get the same audiences in for theatre productions that don’t have celebs involved.

So, while I don’t mind the thought of “all-star casts”, I approach them with caution. Anyway, nowadays there are other stars who are just as important at selling tickets – such as starry directors (Stephen Daldry, Sam Mendes, Danny Boyle), starry writers (JK Rowling, David Hare, Alan Bennett) and even starry producers (Cameron Mackintosh, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sonia Friedman, and me, dear).

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.