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
Mark Shenton
Mark is associate editor of The Stage, as well as joint lead critic. He has written regularly for The Stage since 2005, including 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.