Don’t put so much pressure on artistic directors (your views, March 29)
I heartily agree with your editorial ‘Give National and ENO a break’ (March 22). Thank goodness for common sense.
It is very easy to criticise artistic directors of large theatre, ballet or operatic companies. I greatly enjoy reading articles by theatre critics and value their comments, but they are simply the views of one person, just as my views of productions are those of an individual. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed the National Theatre production of Saint George and the Dragon but some theatre critics disliked it intensely. Conversely, I thought the National’s most recent production of Hedda Gabler was dreadful but my friends and most theatre critics thought it was marvellous and it won awards.
The pressure on artistic directors to succeed with every production is intense. However, many productions by large, centralised companies and theatres are booked months in advance, often before casts are announced. So it does not necessarily follow that a sold-out production will be a good one or that a poorly attended one is an artistic failure.
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Threat from noise complaints
If you choose to live next to Big Ben or the church clock, or back on to the railway, their sound is part of the environment that you are choosing (‘Theatres face closure in noise disputes’, March 22, p1).
The same goes for theatres, which need something like ‘ancient light’ protection for the noise they make while operating – and also right of access for get-ins and so on. There is no use protecting a theatre if you can no longer get your scenery to the dock doors.
Via the stage.co.uk
Anyone moving next to a theatre must expect some noise, but many West End venues are at least Victorian in age, built before the widespread use of amplification for singers and musicians. There has been a move to louder shows, inflicting the sound on the audiences rather than drawing them into the action. Both sides need to be sensitive to this reality.
The hotel builders should soundproof the building, as happened when residential homes were constructed next to the Ministry of Sound nightclub. The Adelphi has been there decades and takes precedence.
Andrew Lloyd Webber at 70
I have no doubt that Lin-Manuel Miranda will continue to do great things, but I firmly believe no one will match Andrew Lloyd Webber (‘He has a body of work that will not be surpassed by anyone’, Profile, March 22) in terms of musically robust, commercially sound, conceptually original and accessible creativity in the theatre.
Lloyd Webber has surpassed his predecessors several times over. His mark on the theatrical canon will be viewed, retrospectively, as profoundly more important than any of his current detractors would like to consider.
Via the stage.co.uk
Why miss out Oxford School?
As a regular reader of The Stage, I was disappointed to notice that Samantha Marsden’s recent article entitled ‘Where can I pursue drama training outside London?’ (February 22, p23) did not mention the Oxford School of Drama.
As a current student, I can testify to the high quality of the training, and the success of its graduates speaks for itself. I would also like to point out that Acting in London has named it one of the top five drama schools in the world, so to miss it off a list of places to train outside London seems like an injustice to the hardworking members of staff and talented students who make the school such a success.
I hope you will give the Oxford School of Drama more coverage in future, when discussing training outside London.
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Deep South in the North West
I am pleased to see that Rebecca Frecknall is championing Tennessee Williams’ play Summer and Smoke. I have often wondered why it is not done more often.
As Fergus Morgan states in his interview with Frecknall (March 1), the play premiered on Broadway a year after A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948. But he also says that it had to wait almost six decades before its UK debut.
Well, Liverpool Playhouse is definitely in the UK and I saw a most wonderful production of it there in 1963. It was the fourth play of David Scase’s tenure at the Playhouse and made a huge impression on me.
The central performance of Miss Alma was by the wonderful Helena de Crespo. After her 18 months at the Playhouse, she returned to the US, where she is still working as far as I know.
The male lead was a talented and handsome young actor, Charles Thomas, who sadly died only a few years later. Patrick Stewart was in the play and other notable parts were all female, played by Cynthia Grenville, Vivien Jones and Jennifer Stirling. The production was unforgettable.
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Editor’s note: The interview with Rebecca Frecknall has since been updated. Our own archive confirms that the UK debut was in 1951 at the Lyric Hammersmith.
Quotes of the week
“It’s a genre that defies labelling. It changes continually. It reinvents itself. It’s got a plethora of material to go back and re-examine. There’s incredible new material being written. It’s attracting a new audience — kids love it.”
Michael Ball on musicals, (Evening Standard)
“Diversity has to be in our bone marrow. That’s who we are, but that’s not our end game. Our end game has to be quality of work.”
Nadia Fall, new artistic director at Theatre Royal Stratford East (Evening Standard)
“You can lose the work if a production is completely conventional or too overly concerned with stodgy philosophy. What we need to find is the golden area in the middle where we have practitioners who are able to give life to these operas, which are often hundreds of years old, and make them live as if they’d been written yesterday.”
Royal opera director Oliver Mears (Guardian)
“As much as people may be critical of those zeitgeisty moments, they have changed awareness. Producers and casting directors have had to interrogate their choices, and it’s the same with the women’s movement – people are now calling out who’s not in the room, who’s not represented.”
Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Observer)
“I’m reluctantly beginning to think that I’m an odd fish as far as Britain is concerned, but I feel that I’ve become part of the Broadway furniture. I have a feeling that musicals are fundamentally in the American DNA. I suppose the adage that we do the plays and they do the musicals is proving to be true.”
Andrew Lloyd Webber (Financial Times)
“I got Arts Council funding to do a book and I came out of hospital with my son two days later, and he came with me [to work meetings]. That’s my life and I didn’t make apologies for it. My son had to come with me or he wouldn’t get fed. But to me it was important that I continued my work, and I got judged by some mothers who said ‘You’re working already’, but I don’t care, I love working, and my son is now one and he’s healthy and happy, I didn’t do him any harm.”
Writer and Ovalhouse Theatre’s learning and participation officer Titilola Dawuda, speaking at a Women’s Day event at the Royal Court, London