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Regional venues are strong enough to attract London talent (your views, November 22)

Mark Gatiss (centre) in The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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Your presumption that Mark Gatiss signed up for The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse based on National Theatre Live’s attachment is incorrect (Editor’s View, November 15). We relish the opportunity to showcase work worldwide, but the production was confirmed long before the cinema broadcast came about.

NT Live was attracted by an Alan Bennett play being produced at Nottingham Playhouse and starring Mark Gatiss, rather than the other way around. It feels important to applaud actors who use their profile to champion regional theatre, not assume ulterior motives.

The production has been a big success for the playhouse, both critically and with audiences, and is playing to sold-out houses. While not a small show to produce, its financial success will help subsidise our other activity in this tough climate.

I’ve spoken before in The Stage about how difficult it is to get actors to commit to regional theatre, often because we need them to do so far in advance, but I think it’s about making them an irresistible offer. Mark’s decision to sign up was based on us having enjoyed working together previously, his lifelong admiration for Alan’s work, a mouth-watering role and a passion for regional theatre born out of his own childhood experiences.

Adam Penford: ‘It’s hard to convince stars to leave London, but there’s a way’

Of course, many other leading actors have also played regional houses recently, but I wish more would take the leap of faith. Our audiences are overjoyed that this production was made in Nottingham and that pride is palpable.

Adam Penford
Artistic director, Nottingham Playhouse

Shows shouldn’t have to go on

Lyn Gardner asked: “Must the show always go on?” (Comment, November 15). In Sheridan Smith’s case it must have been so difficult, as the show was advertised as “Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl”. When I saw the show, Natasha J Barnes was standing in as Fanny Brice and her performance was amazing. I saw it later with Smith in the role – she was equally amazing.

Lyn Gardner: Must the show really always go on?

Reading comments on social media from people saying they had “paid good money” to see Smith and were disappointed, I thought it was more disappointing that anybody expected one person to carry the entire show. It was an excellent production with a superb cast.

By marketing the show on Smith’s name, it set unreasonable expectations for some audience members and downplayed the input of everyone else in the cast. I’m not surprised she felt under such pressure.

Jo Barnard
Via thestage.co.uk

The pressure on performers to be almost inhuman in their determination never to break or show weakness is a huge source of stress.

I would, however, like to offer one word of caution: while “the show must go on” can cause unnecessary pressure, it can also be a source of strength for performers at times of distress. Like others, I have drawn on that idiom at moments of severe struggle as a motivation to keep going when everything else has failed. There have been days when that is the only reason I’ve had left to get out of bed.

The problem at the heart of this issue is not that performers want the show to go on but that the concept has become a rod to beat them with. It has become a method of selection in a saturated market rather than a principle based on pride in good work.

It is high time that our industry took note of the workplace practices of others to improve how we treat each other. For this reason, I’m undertaking research with Manchester School of Theatre and launched [support website] Playing Sane as a public-facing means of increasing awareness. We have a lot of work to do but we are moving in the right direction.

Alice Brockway
playingsane.org

Paying trustees

Tom Harvey is absolutely right about paying trustees (Letters, November 15).

Everyone else gets paid for their professional or creative input to theatres and arts organisations so why not trustees, who ultimately take responsibility for success and failure?

Free advice carries no authority. Too many arts boards are dominated by chairs who do not have a clue about governance or financial management and planning.

Fortunately, however, some arts and theatre charities are doing fabulous work.

Trevor Chenery
Via thestage.co.uk

Olivier on film

While I enjoyed Lyn Gardner’s feature on what makes a great actor (Long Read, October 25), it depressed me that the old line about Laurence Olivier being a ham on film was trotted out.

What makes a great actor?

Unfortunately, I saw him only twice in the theatre (in Chekhov and O’Neill), but I have seen a wide range of his versatile film work, in the cinema and on video, and in my opinion he is as good a film actor as anyone in cinema history. Is it a case of ‘great stage actor or great film actor – we cannot allow you to be both’?

James Murray
Ballymena, County Antrim

Good behaviour

When it comes to audience etiquette (Focus, November 8), it depends what the theatre is like. If you’re in the pit at Shakespeare’s Globe, a few rustling wrappers don’t make as much of a disturbance as in a closed theatre.

As for phones, you’re usually told to at least switch them to silent, if not turn them off completely at the beginning of the show.

Perhaps that’s more because they could be used as recording devices than for noisy phone calls?

Kathrin ‘Lily’ Franke
Via Facebook

Quotes of the week

Natasha Gordon. Photo: Alex Brenner
Natasha Gordon. Photo: Alex Brenner

“When I finished writing Nine Night, I had no idea what to expect. The critical voice within got louder and louder. How dare I dream to transition from actor to writer? Who would be interested in this play, featuring a predominantly black cast, featuring predominantly women, featuring predominantly women over the age of 40? The critical voice grew louder, saying ‘Honey, you are pushing your luck’.” – Natasha Gordon, picking up the most promising playwright award at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards

“For some reason, I had an unshakeable faith that all would work out. I don’t know if it’s because of that voice, which I tried to stop and kill, or because I just thought, ‘I am an actress, and that is what I’m going to do.’ I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the future. I would suggest that – a little time but not a lot. Pay attention to where you are. Celebrate the small victories.” – Actor and The Handmaid’s Tale star Ann Dowd on achieving success in her 50s (Glamour)

“Hey guys, a few top tips on things NOT to say to actors!
1. Are you any good?
2. Have you been in anything I know?
3. Oh, so you’re not a real actor then?
4. Have you had your big break yet?!
EVIDENTLY NOT KEVIN OR I WOULD NOT BE RIPPING UP CARDBOARD WITH YOU IN A STOCK ROOM!” – Actor and circus performer Sedona Rose (Twitter)

“Getting pigeonholed as an actor is terrifying because you want to keep people guessing. So being the beautiful young thing clearly worries me because you think, ‘What happens when my hair falls out, like it is, and I start getting old?’” – Actor Jude Law (New York Times)

“Growing up, my mum made me believe I could do anything, be anyone. She gave me the world. Tonight I’m at #ESTheatreAwards with my best friend celebrating the play we made. My mum is holding my nine-month-old while I’m there. She’s still giving me the world.” – Theatr Clwyd artistic director Tamara Harvey (Twitter)

“In this day and age people are always talking about mental health, yet the one thing they’re taking away is how to express yourself creatively without boundaries and limitations. Everything is now so academic; I feel for kids these days.”  – Performer Bonnie Langford on cuts to the arts in education (speaking at the launch of the Alliance of Musical Theatre Conservatoires at Brasserie Zedel in London)


Email your views to alistair@thestage.co.uk Please mark your email as ‘for publication’. The Stage reserves the right to edit letters for publication.

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