Classic shows can be problematic, but there are ways of staging them (your views, July 26)
There are two broad approaches to this: first, try not to adapt to current sensibilities and understandings, and leave the work as a ‘historical piece’, or, alternatively, adapt to modern tastes. Surely this is part of what new live theatre is about, although there will always be disagreement, about the new meanings.
Productions of The Taming of the Shrew – in particular the ending – have been battling these questions for decades.
My Fair Lady, much as I love it, did soften the feminism of Pygmalion. But we shouldn’t try to rewrite problematic works. Let’s explore the difference between cultural attitudes then and now rather than whitewash the past.
As for Carousel, I think Julie’s song is the equivalent of Nancy’s As Long As He Needs Me in Oliver!. She is blinded by love: it’s incredibly sad but darkly truthful to observe that some women stay in abusive relationships. Rodgers and Hammerstein didn’t write about comfortable situations where everything is straightforward.
Rewriting classics is a dangerous business, but reframing a troubling moment can work well.
I disagree with Richard Jordan’s analysis of Bartlett Sher’s staging of the final moments of My Fair Lady. Although it’s ambiguous, there’s evidence that Eliza isn’t there at all in the last scene. Not only does she not speak, but she steps through the fourth wall of Higgins’ house, then walks through the audience out the door. It’s a path no other character has taken during the show, and seems to imply Higgins is just imagining her presence as she slowly slips away.
If interpreted that way, the moment does bring closure, but the characters don’t end up together. Nor do they in Pygmalion, so it’s true to Shaw if perhaps not Lerner and Loewe.
There was a time when banning books was enforced by critics to censor the thinking of others. Has the world come to that?
Plays, musicals and films were written in and about a time and place and the magic is to be transported by them. People had different morals or views in the past from those of today, but they happened.
Why not rewrite the Bible and take away all references to stoning, crucifixion and bullying?
Remembering Peter Clayton
A dear friend of mine, the theatre philanthropist Peter Clayton, died recently.
When I was barely out of university, through sheer belief and selflessness, he made everything happen for me. I’d had an idea: to create a theatre festival in Suffolk where I’d grown up. I knew the economics of the idea were impossible, and that we’d need to attract a network of advocates and supporters from all walks of life. A university friend introduced me to Peter and I soon learned that he viewed nothing
Peter was happiest when connecting the people he loved – to call him a networker cheapens that. ‘Networking’ suggests something that is ultimately self-interested, about promoting one’s own agenda. But Peter was the only person I’ve ever met whose only agenda was other people. He was a network, not a networker.
Peter introduced me to a group of formidable women who supported and mentored me, and today are my friends: Clare Parsons, whose business Lansons became HighTide’s home, Joyce Hytner and Sally Greene.
Everywhere I go, I meet people who speak of him in the same way. There is awe and gratitude in their voice, but some confusion. They ask, as I do, why they deserved such commitment and support. They wonder if they ever knew the real Peter.
In this modern age of self-regard, Peter was other-worldly, a paradox. He looked like the star of a Merchant Ivory film and behaved as if he came from another era – an era in which people cared and the value of human connection is celebrated above all else, an era where friendship is found in daily acts of love.
Director, Nuffield Southampton Theatres
In the Green Room discussion about agents, Peter said: “Some actors resent paying commission on jobs they get for themselves. But they forget the time agents put into putting them up for jobs they don’t get.”
This is to my mind a logical and fair observation. However, to demand or receive such commissions appears to be illegal.
The Employment Agencies Act 1973 6(1) states: “Except in such cases or classes of case as the Secretary of State may prescribe, a person carrying on an employment agency or an employment business shall not demand or directly or indirectly receive from any person any fee for finding him employment or for seeking to find him employment.”
Actors, musicians, singers, dancers and other performers are exceptions to this provision by regulation 26 and schedule 3 of The Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003.
But regulation 26(2) provides: “Any fee charged by the agency may consist only of a charge or commission payable out of the work-seeker’s earnings in any such employment which the agency has found for him.”
Thus no agent can be entitled to payment for work found entirely by the performers, and clauses in many agents’ contracts that require such payments are illegal.
Quotes of the week
“Now more than ever it’s all of our responsibility to have other things represented on screen. There have been so many male stories on screen, or stories of women written by men, so she’s the wife of someone, the girlfriend of someone…”
Actor Vanessa Kirby (Observer)
“Having never had an agent, I have always relied on my peers and colleagues to advise me with work things. It ain’t gossiping to name names and share experiences, it’s protecting each other. We gotta have each others’ backs in an industry that, let’s admit it, is always on the take.”
Director Nadia Latif (Twitter)
“You should expect the National Theatre of Pitlochry: a diverse diet that ensures people will always find something for them and, hopefully, diverse enough that they would want to come and see all six pieces. That’s what the National Theatre does so brilliantly.”
Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s new artistic director Elizabeth Newman on her plans for her first season (Scotsman)
“We were really shameless. We had catchphrases. We wore too much make-up. We were loud and grotesque at a time when everybody else was doing comedy in quite an understated way. I think we just got lucky.”
Matt Lucas on working with David Walliams (the News)
“I’m really interested to find as many ways as possible to make theatre happen [outside] the West End or on proscenium arch stages. This means that you have to be more creative, think outside of the box and find venues away from the West End and out of London that can sustain long runs.”
Producer Katy Lipson (Reviews Hub)
“The tickets are that price because it’s the only way the show can make its money back. We’re not inviting press because we want to have the opportunity to get the show right.”
Producer Paul Taylor-Mills on Heathers (Broadway World)
“Of course I knew the problem [of sexual harassment] existed. I just hadn’t viewed it as a problem we were allowed to be angry about. Because no one said: ‘I am not putting up with this any more.’ It wasn’t called a problem, it was called a fact of life. That is such a terrible mindset. If we just accept things like sexual harassment as a fact of life, it doesn’t get fixed.’
Actor Margot Robbie on #MeToo (Evening Standard Magazine)
Email your views to firstname.lastname@example.org Please mark your email as ‘for publication’. The Stage reserves the right to edit letters for publication.