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Short Shorts 70: Reviews of seats (not shows), absent stars and a new producer above the title

Apolo­gies for the short hia­tus in short shorts, whose ab­sence was caused last week by the fact that my epic ‘Half a Cen­tury of Great Mu­si­cals’ ran across four days in­stead of the ex­pected three – and stretched to nearly 14,000 words as it did so!

So it was the very op­po­site of short! But I’m back today with some pithy ob­ser­va­tions from around town this week.

A The­atri­cal Trip Ad­vi­sor

Reg­u­lar read­ers of this blog will know how bad the­atre seat­ing and/or worse sight­lines is one of my big bug­bears, es­pe­cially at the prices that peo­ple are pay­ing for the (lack of) view these days. So I’m in­trigued by the launch of seat­plan.co.uk [1], a Trip Ad­vi­sor-style web­site which seeks to crowd-source data on every one of the 50,000 seats in the West End and offer per­sonal views of the ex­pe­ri­ences cus­tomers have in each one.

It will re­quire a big data catch to pro­vide use­ful in­for­ma­tion, though, and the site has pos­si­bly launched too soon – it hasn’t col­lected quite enough yet to be truly use­ful yet. It’s also, of course, open to se­r­ial abuse from peo­ple with vested in­ter­ests in hav­ing par­tic­u­lar seats sold (like pre­mium ones) – or other more mis­chie­vous par­ties who may want to down­play them.

That’s the trou­ble with democ­racy; it will come down to who shouts loud­est (or posts most reg­u­larly). There’s also a lot of sub­jec­tiv­ity when it comes to choice of seats, just as there’s lots of sub­jec­tiv­ity around opin­ions on shows.

The site’s Amer­i­can founder Tim Sul­li­van has com­mented, “Any­one who’s had a night at the the­atre ru­ined by cramped knees or a pil­lar block­ing their view of the stage needs Seat­Plan.” Since Mr Sul­li­van is 6’7″ tall, per­haps it would also be use­ful to pub­lish his the­atre diary along­side it, and which seats he’ll be sit­ting in, so we can avoid sit­ting be­hind him.

Mon­key-ing about

In fact there’s a bril­liant site avail­able – www.the­atremon­key.com [2] – that al­ready of­fers de­tailed, reg­u­larly up­dated notes on spe­cific seat­ing arrange­ments through­out the West End, in­clud­ing great notes on par­tic­u­lar haz­ards unique to the par­tic­u­lar pro­duc­tion play­ing now.

The cur­rent entry on the Adel­phi The­atre, for in­stance, tells us:

Row A has been heav­ily dis­counted as “Day Seats.” Be aware that there are large flash­ing lights in front of seats here. SPOILER there’s also an ex­tended fi­nale stage SPOILER ENDS in front of A 18 and 19, mak­ing it per­haps worth tak­ing 10 to 16 or 21 to 26 (in num­ber order mov­ing from cen­tre out­wards) first.

That’s the kind of de­tailed note you only get from dili­gent re­search. And The­atremon­key has been doing it for years. The­atremon­key also does a fan­tas­tic job of ag­gre­gat­ing the myr­iad spe­cial of­fers fly­ing around at any time. In fact I know of nowhere bet­ter to find them [4].

What hap­pens when the star is AWOL?

But even The­atremon­key can’t sadly tell you if and when Heather Headley, the star of the Adel­phi’s cur­rent show The Body­guard, will be ap­pear­ing. As Ed­ward Seck­er­son has writ­ten in a blog [5], “If the com­ments com­ing into this site and the buzz around town is any­thing to go by, Heather Headley is more likely to be found on Twit­ter than on the stage of the Adel­phi The­atre.”

Of course there’s no leg­is­lat­ing for ill­ness; as Ed writes,

Every­body gets sick and Will Young re­cently used Twit­ter to say how wretched he felt at hav­ing to miss a week of per­for­mances in Cabaret be­cause he had no voice. Per­haps Headley should do the same.

A friend from Amer­ica tried last month to see her four times and she wasn’t on. Fi­nally, he booked in to see the show when she wasn’t off – only for her to stop mid­way through the per­for­mance and her un­der­study take over.

A new pro­ducer above the title

The ven­er­a­ble Michael Co­dron – the West End’s longest serv­ing pro­ducer, with more than half a cen­tury of shows be­hind him – re­turned to town this week with his splen­did new pro­duc­tion of Simon Gray’s Quater­maine’s Terms that he first pro­duced in the West End 31 years ago. But he shared his pro­ducer billing with a new name on the poster: An­thony Pye-Jeary (plus the in­creas­ingly pro­lific The­atre Royal Bath Pro­duc­tions).

[pullquote][Dewynters] is a remarkably creative place, and helped brand and define a whole creative era[/pullquote]

But though Pye-Jeary may have his name on the poster for the first time, he has been the force BE­HIND the posters of the West End for some 40 years. First work­ing as a PR, he was a co-founder of Dewyn­ters in its cur­rent in­car­na­tion as the lead­ing ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing agency in the West End. To de­clare an in­ter­est, he was once my boss – my first Lon­don job, from 1986 to 1990, was work­ing at Dewyn­ters, so I’ve seen its work­ings from the in­side, as it were.

It’s a re­mark­ably cre­ative place, and helped brand and de­fine a whole cre­ative era of British mu­si­cals with its logos for shows like Cats, Les Mis, The Phan­tom of the Opera and over 997 more (ac­cord­ing to An­thony’s bio in the Quater­maine’s Terms pro­gramme, the agency has pro­moted over 1,000 pro­duc­tions). So it’s great to see him above the title of one of his own ac­counts at last.

Phan­tom’s Broad­way 25th

Last Sat­ur­day, Broad­way’s The Phan­tom of the Opera – al­ready the longest-run­ning show in Broad­way his­tory – cel­e­brated an­other mile­stone, as it reached its 25th an­niver­sary year. (It orig­i­nally opened on Jan. 26, 1988) As di­rec­tor Hal Prince, who him­self turned 85 on Wednes­day, told Play­bill.com [6] of the show’s long run,

Did I ever dream it would hap­pen? No, of course not. I knew [from stag­ing the Lon­don pro­duc­tion] we had a hit, but, in the the­atre that I was raised in, a long run was 1,000 per­for­mances. That was a big, big hit. Then, My Fair Lady ran five years. But [a 25th an­niver­sary] is an­other world, and I’m happy to have been part of it.

Amongst the cel­e­bra­tory mes­sages, I came across this bril­liant sum­mary of the show by Tina Fey (via Time Out New York’s Adam Feld­man):

“Broad­way’s longest-run­ning mu­si­cal about a burn vic­tim who rapes an opera singer”

An­other quote of the week

Glenda Jack­son, com­par­ing her life in par­lia­ment to her pre­vi­ous life as actor on­stage and screen, told Yahoo News [7]:

I was told I was re­plac­ing one form of the­atre with an­other. I said if that was the case then the Com­mons is re­mark­ably un­der-re­hearsed, the light­ing is ap­palling and the acoustic is even worse…

The kind of be­hav­iour you saw in par­lia­ment would not be tol­er­ated for 30 sec­onds in a pro­fes­sional the­atre. Es­sen­tially there’s a lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism, very poor time­keep­ing, a great deal of wast­ing time, and egos the size of which I’ve never seen in my life be­fore.

Act­ing isn’t a game. The­atre isn’t fun. Peo­ple aren’t play­ing. It’s an ex­tremely hard-work­ing, very ded­i­cated pro­fes­sional place to work, and re­gard­less of the in­di­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ties en­gaged in a play, there is a gen­uine goal that every­one is at­tempt­ing to reach… that the pro­duc­tion is the best it can be. That team­work I ex­pected to find here, I found re­mark­ably lack­ing.