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Channels of theatrical communication and failures that lead to opportunities

A scene from The Full Monty at the Noel Coward Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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It is not unheard of for West End actors to find out that they are to be imminently unemployed by reading about their show’s closure in Baz Bamigboye’s weekly Daily Mail column, published every Friday.

That’s what famously happened to the company of Love Never Dies at the Adelphi, and it also happened when Top Hat looked like it was being given its notice at the Aldwych last May, as I wrote here at the time.

In fact, Baz had jumped the gun a bit on the latter – and not only did the transfer he’d mooted to follow it of James Graham’s This House from the National to the Aldwych sadly not materialise in the end, but Top Hat also hung around for over five months more, until finally closing at the end of October.

So you can’t always rely on what you read in the press, let alone on social media. But once again last weekend Facebook trumped them all, when a cast member of The Full Monty Kenny Doughty posted about the bombshell of being given notice the night before, with the audiences cheers still resounding in their ears and some of that audience not yet even having left the theatre, as I reported yesterday.  

It wasn’t until yesterday that the producers officially confirmed it in a statement to the press, and it was, it seems, nothing more complicated than poor ticket sales. “Despite having played to packed houses on its UK tour,” the statement said, “simply not enough of a West End audience shared in the excitement of this terrific production.”

Of course, it is usually as simple as that. Commercial theatre stands (or falls) by what happens at the box office, and sometimes there simply aren’t the limitless reserves to keep a show going regardless of whether an audience is coming or not. Of course, sometimes, too, shows need time to build their audiences and that necessity is built into the budget. Such seems to have been the case with Once, which last night celebrated St Patrick’s Day with a gala charity night and the arrival of a new leading man in Arthur Darvill who has already played it on Broadway.

At least that show now has a name to promote, as well as its own from its Tony winning New York success (which won’t have counted for much on these shores), and the indie film it is based on. The Full Monty, by contrast, lacks star power, and it seems now, staying power, too. But it will at least resume a 32-week national tour, kicking off in Manchester in September, so all is not lost quite yet.

The same is true for Top Hat, which made way in the end for Stephen Ward, but will go on a new national tour in 2015. Stephen Ward has itself proved to be the shortest-lived of all Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals since his 1975 flop Jeeves. But then, just Jeeves came back in 1996 as By Jeeves, so other Lloyd Webber musicals invariably don’t go away quite so easily either. Love Never Dies famously got an all-new production in Australia that is now available on DVD; and the week after next, London’s tiny Union Theatre also stages a new production of his 2000 flop The Beautiful Game, so we may not have seen the last of Stephen Ward, either.

Much as it is disappointing for the actors when shows don’t work, it invariably means, too, an opportunity for other actors to work instead. The closure of Stephen Ward, for instance, has given the RSC a chance to return to the Aldwych, once their London home, with the transfer of its stage adaptations of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, arriving there in May. It is revealing that the press release for this double bill actually includes the following thank you: “Playful Productions and the RSC are very grateful to Robert Fox Limited and the Really Useful Group for their generosity in enabling Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies to follow Stephen Ward at the Aldwych Theatre.”

Sometimes it is even more personal than just an actor getting a new job; sometimes there’s the promise of a whole new way of life. At Sunday evening’s West End Recast concert at the Duke of York’s, Martin Callaghan revealed that the early closure of Stephen Ward means he’s off to Brazil for a new life with the man he recently married. Bravo and congratulations.

And talking of marriage: I was thrilled to discover that as of last Thursday, gay marriages made legally abroad are now officially recognised as full marriages in the UK, too, so I’m now officially married in the eyes of the law here.

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