Front Row fuss is overblown (your views, September 28)
I talked to the Radio Times quite widely about theatre and the plays I love – and about music and film and art (‘Front Row presenters’ comments provoke outcry from theatre sector’). Then I made a joke about loos and uncomfy seats.
The magazine (because it is not interested in theatre) quoted only the jokes, the Telegraph made a big skewed meal of it and then the theatre community, with a staggering failure of imagination, empathy, wit, understanding and maturity, went nuts. The artistic director of the Royal Court called us all “cunts”. A couple of writers for The Stage truly abased themselves.
It was bizarre. It was also, I am afraid, a little bit sad.
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Giles Coren’s response to John Wilson on BBC Radio 4 was pretty pathetic – a little more humility wouldn’t go amiss. Theatre isn’t the only performing art, obviously, but some more respect for what it does achieve would be welcome.
Directors: let the text shine
Stephen Sondheim is absolutely right when he says directors should focus on the text, not themselves (News, August 31).
Ivo van Hove, are you listening? His ridiculous take on Hedda Gabler ruined the performances of two of our finest actors: Ruth Wilson and Rafe Spall. The same sadly applies to the normally excellent Timothy Sheader at Regent’s Park, where I recently caught a performance of one of my favourite musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were also watching the show that night, and went on stage at the end to great applause. Lloyd Webber glowingly thanked the band who, in my opinion, were fantastic; Rice was a tad more muted in his thanks to the cast.
I was hardly their fault that this production presented a director’s take on the subject matter, making it ‘accessible’ to a new generation. Thus Jesus wore a vest and a baseball cap. As my 20-something daughter remarked at the interval: “Making it accessible is patronising. My generation is quite capable of understanding what a play or a musical is about.”
Directors should take a leaf out of Sondheim’s book, get over themselves and concentrate on the text and the actors whose job it is to bring the text to life. Trust us. We can do it.
Obscured view from the stalls
While the debate about whether audiences should be allowed to eat during a performance rumbles on, another issue raises its head (literally): what do you do if you find yourself sitting behind a tall person?
At a recent show I attended in the West End, with action centre-stage all but hidden from view, I found myself (at 5ft 6in) hoping the director had chosen to make the most of stage left and right. Of course you can peer round the side of the obstruction, but that is almost certain to infuriate those sitting behind you.
What’s the answer? Check for empty seats and move in the interval? Ask the tall person to slouch? Avoid theatres with gentle rakes, just in case? When you pay for ticket, you’re looking forward to something rather special. Checking for split ends or dandruff doesn’t quite fit the bill.
I agree with David Lister about programmes (Opinion, September 14). However, the programme I bought at An American in Paris recently was an exception. Not only did it have what the actors had been in but also the role they played.
Regarding adverts screened in French theatres (News, September 21) – if I lived in Paris, I’d be stocking up on rotten tomatoes.
Quotes of the week
“Women need to create lots of stuff and get our work out there because the door shuts firmly on us a lot quicker. It’s a shame.”
Actor Susan Wokoma (Guardian)
“Being involved with [a youth drama workshop] meant we had an opportunity to [act] at proper theatres such as the National, and we were just kids. I guess I took it for granted. Now, that kind of thing happens less and less, doesn’t it? That’s old sexy eyes and her government for you.”
Actor Jack O’Connell (Elle)
“I went to the first reading, but I think [as a playwright] you should just keep out of the play’s way. That is what you have directors for. It depends on the relationship between the actors and the directors, but I’m just here to answer questions really.”
Playwright Peter Gill speaking at the launch of Uncle Vanya at Theatr Clwyd
“The person next to me at the theatre is wearing shoes that light up. I mean really; yet another thing to ban #shoecrime.”
The Times theatre critic Ann Treneman (Twitter)
“Watching myself onscreen becomes less and less enthralling. I’m happy to do voice-overs. I always have a good time doing them. I like to explore vocal nuance and accents and different people, different personalities. In a way, it is a lot more freeing than having your face up there.”
Anjelica Huston (Vanity Fair)
“I was a very, very anxious child and I had a lot of panic attacks. I benefited in a big way from therapy – I started it at seven. Acting and improvisation helped me so much.”
Actor Emma Stone, speaking as part of a campaign for Child Mind Institute
“Trump is not the master of diplomacy and he could learn a thing or two from this play.”
Actor Toby Stephens on JT Rogers’ Oslo (Evening Standard)
“There was John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Edward Fox, John Hurt, all these people – and the Queen of England! I was about 19. Talk about learning to deal with nerves!”
Kenneth Branagh on performing Hamlet in front of the Queen and Prince Philip
What you said on Facebook…
Isn’t she a bit young for that? What about the great roles potentially ahead of her?
We should celebrate her success so far. I look forward to seeing it – she is amazing.
What is the alternative? For a show such as the HiddleHam, imagine if they had sold seats at the box office. It would have been carnage, even if the run was three years long. For hugely popular shows, I don’t see a better alternative than ballots. You can’t argue that popular actors/theatres shouldn’t put on small shows, as it would severely restrict creative freedom.
From a marketing point of view and as a theatre fan: no. Something like that should be on a screen with no audio. At the theatre, people talk excitedly and look around the auditorium before the show – it’s not a cinema.
Clifford James Green
Blackpool Opera House has been doing this since last summer for future shows and venue promotions. They are shown during the interval, not before, and are well received.
Surely that eliminates the creative choice of a preset on stage.