Airing grievances from tweets to seats

Olivia Hallinan and  Holliday Grainger in Three Sisters. Photo: Annabel Vere
Olivia Hallinan and Holliday Grainger in Three Sisters. Photo: Annabel Vere
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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Everyone can nowadays air private grievances publicly, of course, thanks to Twitter, and broadcast them to as many followers as they have. But there's also a sense in which Twitter encourages people to act in haste. Whether or not they repent at leisure, of course, is another matter. It took Sally Bercow, of course, a court case for her to do so when a tweet she wrote about Lord McAlpine went viral.

As a critic who makes (some of) my living from my opinions, I expect them to be challenged from time to time, and Twitter allows readers to instantly respond. I absolutely welcome this, and have had some very constructive dialogues out of it as a result; indeed, I've even made some friends as a result with those I've communicated with.

But it can still come as a surprise when people directly connected to a show respond. Just the other day I tweeted this after the first night of Relative Values at the Pinter Theatre, and @bobofthebush tweeted a reply:

https://twitter.com/bobofthebush/status/456037483965595649

Turns out that @bobofthebush is none other than Robert Fox, producer of Fatal Attraction. He's a producer I have long admired and respected, even if I didn't at all care for that particular show. So it was chastening to see his short message in my mentions column. It doesn't change my opinion of the production, of course, but it's nice to be reminded that producers feel so passionately about their shows.

At Sunday's Olivier Awards at the Royal Opera House I was seated in the middle of producers and creative people happily celebrating success, not failure, and I'll admit that it was a far better place to be. I was in the middle of The Book of Mormon crew – including, on my immediate right, Stephen Ashfield (who took the Olivier for Best Performance in a Supporting Role), and right behind me Gavin Creel (winner of the Olivier for Best Actor in a Musical) and Casey Nicholaw (winner of the Olivier for Best Choreographer), while two of the show's co-producers Sonia Friedman (seated with her mum) and Anne Garefino were in front of me (who together accepted the award for best musical).

From a prime seat at the Opera House, I found myself the next night at the opening of Relative Values at the Harold Pinter towards the back of the stalls in row O. I've checked the seating plan online for the theatre, and these are top price non-premium seats, selling at £55. Yet not only was I having to constantly lean to one side to actually see past the head of the front of the person in front of me, but it also felt like I was watching proceedings from the wrong end of a telescope. 

Maybe I've been spoilt from the close-up seats I'm more used to, but it was a revelation to me to think that people are actually being asked to pay such sums for such poor seats.

No wonder the intimacy of fringe venues is far more appealing, even if the comfort factor isn't necessarily. And last night I was thrilled to see a virtually packed house at Southwark Playhouse for Anya Reiss's new contemporary version of Three Sisters. But I nearly walked out of it – not, I hasten to add, because of the production.

Rather, when we returned from the interval, we found another couple occupying our seats.... who refused to budge, saying that others had taken theirs. It is in an unreserved house like Southwark it's always first come, first served; but there's a popular convention that once you've claimed your seats, they're yours for the rest of the performance.

The theatre management intervened last night to sort it out, but it amazes me that they had to. And I was more than glad that I stayed. This version of the play was alive with feeling and meaning, and Reiss's version brought it bang up-to-date in a fresh, frequently illuminating new context.

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