Two American screen stars give big interviews in The Stage this week, with both Bill Pullman and Wendell Pierce talking insightfully about their UK stage debuts.
Many things link the two men: both are starring in Arthur Miller revivals in theatres on The Cut (at the Old Vic and Young Vic, respectively); both are well known for playing on-screen detectives (The Sinner and The Wire). There’s even a jazz connection, with Pierce playing a trombone in Treme and Pullman making his name playing a jazz saxophonist in David Lynch’s Lost Highway.
But the link that struck me most in their interviews is that they are US actors who both enjoyed formative theatre experiences travelling to London.
Pullman first came to the capital in 1973 and fed on a diet of radical, political theatre: Red Ladder, 7:84 and the American-led but UK-based Open Space Theatre, artists that have influenced his own practice.
Meanwhile, Pierce – just four years after Pullman – visited London on a school trip and saw the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of As You Like It, directed by Trevor Nunn.
It was, he says, “the first time I saw Shakespeare come alive” and turned him on to the possibility of becoming an actor. Ever since, he’s wanted to work in the UK, observing: “If you’re doing cinema, you go to Hollywood. For theatre, you go to London or New York, but especially London.”
This is a reminder that London is as much a global capital for theatre – especially for drama – as it is the UK capital of theatre.
But it is also a reminder of one of the many reasons why it is so important that ticket prices are kept competitive. We often talk about the importance of accessible pricing to develop the audiences of the future, but Pullman and Pierce’s anecdotes also underline the importance of keeping ticket prices affordable so that young actors and creatives can access the very best of British theatre and develop the theatre bug. Theatre may not be able to match the wage packets of Netflix or Hollywood but, if it can inspire people from an early age, it can offer them the promise of artistic fulfilment.
Would Pierce and Pullman have felt the urge to come and perform in London had they not been able to afford those early, influential experiences before they both became stars?
Who knows, but they did and are now both proving major draws on the London stage. Sensible ticket prices can end up paying back in the long run.