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Letters of the week

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Hamlet quip was out of order

At 4am, sleepless, I decided to try to stop worrying about a particularly precarious negotiation and read my latest copy of The Stage. I have to say the Hamlet cartoon (January 23) really upset me. Another cheap pop at theatrical agents – poor us. How can we change this received wisdom that agents are “idle, feckless, booze-soaked parasites who think the world owes them a living” if Hamlet reinforces this stereotype for a cheap laugh? Have I had a sense of humour bypass?

Working 11 hours a day, seven days a week and on call 24 hours a day looking after my clients because I really care about doing my job well, it hurts. It is not any longer a 9 to 5 business – the internet changed all that. Eighteen years ago, when I made the change from actress to agent, there was a weekly script breakdown service, a Production and Casting Report and a lot of phone calls. Now it’s all online, with approximately 50 casting breakdowns coming in daily – and nightly, many being posted in the wee small hours.

A casting director will most likely book in the first 10 or 15 good suggestions, so you have to be in first with your clients and not miss a trick. You never know which breakdown is going to be the one that lands that contract that can change an actor’s life.

Evenings are spent working late, or at student shows or press nights, and very rarely with feet up in front of the telly (I am writing this at my desk on a Friday night after 8pm). Weekends are often spent travelling– I spent the week between Christmas and New Year at pantos all over the place supporting my clients and enjoying seeing them in action (and causing consternation among protective parents – a middle-aged woman with no accompanying children, and not singing, booing or hissing?)

I know most agents work just as hard, yet we continue to be fair game for the old insults. Will we never change this perception of ourselves as a necessary evil, out for ourselves, the enemy, the butt of jokes?

And then, a dream contract is landed – the one that changes an actor’s life – and what happens? After the euphoria and yes, why not, lots of champagne, often the actor leaves, usually for an agent who doesn’t actually need them. All those trees planted, and someone else picks the blooming cherries.

So why carry on? Because seeing a client playing a wonderful role, or the late starter who realises their dream, or spotting talent at grass roots level and hoping they choose you as their agent, and doing your best to get them launched, that’s why.

So do we really not deserve to make a living doing this?

Philippa Howell
Philippa Howell Personal Management
The Strand
London WC2 


Harsh remarks made me cross

I was very surprised and rather disappointed to read Mark Shenton’s recent remarks on the general quality of productions at London’s Charing Cross Theatre (Review of the year, December 19, page 25), with “nearly everything staged” there being accorded “worst of the year”.

I attended 66 West End and fringe productions during 2013 and saw a number of very good productions at the Charing Cross. I felt Mark’s comments were not only incorrect, but disparaging and unfunny – I assume he intended these comments to be a joke?

I have, previously, very much enjoyed his pieces in The Stage, and had believed he was both an insightful and well-informed critic.

Steve Foxhall
Email address supplied


Imaginative act is an inspiration

It was nice to read Liz Arratoon’s review of Cirque du Soleil’s Quidam at the Royal Albert Hall (Reviews, January 16, page 17), but I disagree with two points raised. Firstly, a reference to characters “prattling about on the edges as meaningless distractions”. Secondly, the closing of the review, which read, “So it’s easy – go/don’t go depending on whether you’ve been before” – based on Arratoon’s opinion of amendments to the 1996 production of the show.

With reference to characters “prattling about”, this might not appeal to one individual, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it would be “meaningless” to anyone else. Think of the children watching a Cirque du Soleil performance, who might find interest or curiosity in the actions or – to use a more inspiring word – ‘play’ of one of these characters. And think of adults who not only appreciate theatre as an art form, but are still in touch with their child selves in terms of innocence, happiness and excitement – they would likely appreciate these characterisations.

If our governments could see and appreciate more the benefits of theatre to communities – and if more people got involved with theatre and worked together to ‘play’ – our people and communities would lead better, more engaging and fulfilling lives. There should be less arts cuts and more individuals who can get inspired to spend their hard-earned money to go to a show, join a drama society or learn about the theatre.

On the second point, Arratoon does not agree with an evolved change in the show. But look at this from another perspective – it is good to have change, to give things diversity and new life. One of the many great elements of theatre is that no show is ever exactly the same on different nights, which makes each performance experience unique. There will doubtless be audience members who saw Quidam in 1996 and welcomed changes in the new production.

I think, in general, audiences are consistently mesmerised by a Cirque du Soleil performance. The performers have to be commended for their fitness levels, stamina and flexibility. They perform jaw-dropping acts, demanding so much stamina, mind and body control, that take years of physical training and endless hours in rehearsal to master.

The creative teams – including directors, production and set designers, lighting designers and special effects designers – create beautiful art on the stage that is simply mindblowing. Cirque du Soleil puts on fluid, high-energy theatrical performances that are stylish and sophisticated, and are brought to the stage by artists at the top of their game.

In October last year, I was lucky to be sat near the front of the stage for a performance of the company’s touring production Alegria. During the staging of a storm, an immensely powerful air machine was used to blow snowflakes, creating a blizzard effect. I actually experienced G-force by the power of this machine – it was like being in an air-craft simulator.

Sat next to me was a gentleman with his child, a boy of about five years old. Like me, the boy was mesmerised by the show. Throughout the performance I noticed this child’s intrigue, delight and fascination at what he was seeing on stage and experiencing as an audience member. It was nice to think that Cirque du Soleil has inspired this child – as it inspires people of all ages – to find delight in the theatre. This kind of show and company can help generate the theatre-going audiences of tomorrow.

So I say keep it coming and hats off to Cirque du Soleil – keep serving those fine performances that, like a good restaurant, give people delightful food for thought, make audiences want to come back and inspire people to tell their friends about the great times to be had in the theatre.

Tony Lawton
Email address supplied


Standout actors deserve garlands

As it is awards season, I feel I must write to congratulate David Neilson and Julie Hesmondhalgh for their outstanding performances in the recent episodes of Coronation Street. Personally, I cannot find sufficient words to describe how I felt after Monday evening’s episode (January 20, ITV). Magnificent is one word that comes to mind.

I have been involved with the theatre and acting for more than 50 years, and their performances rank among the best.

It is not often I have seen many soap actors praised in The Stage, but these actors should not go without due credit and the receiving of an award. Well done to them both, and to the writers and producers of the programme for dealing with such an emotive issue.

Barry Foster
Manor Cottages
High Stakesby
North Yorkshire

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