Whatever the justification for this move it will inevitably look petty and mean-minded, while the cost savings to English National Opera’s budget will be minimal. Can chief executive Stuart Murphy offer a categorical assurance that this culling of plus-one tickets will be as rigorously applied to board members, agents, senior management, invited guests and the myriad others who would normally receive a pair of comps for press nights? In the scheme of things, 40 extra tickets for critics in a house that seats 2,300 is a drop in the ocean – but the negative publicity will be priceless.
A news story from last week quotes writer Sonya Hale as saying: “Too often in theatre, plays are written about issues by people that just don’t know anything about them.”
Last year I worked with master’s students at Punjabi University, Patiala, to write a play about gender inequality in India. Using WhatsApp to enable us to communicate while I was at home in England, about a dozen, mainly female, students told me about their experience growing up in a patriarchal society. Some went out and did their own research, some just told me what they already knew.
The script was inspired and shaped through a process of drafting and redrafting in the light of my collaborators’ responses over a period of six months. At the start of this year I spent six weeks at the university directing the show Unborn with an all-female cast of 30 students, none of whom had acted before, and a crew of nearly as many equally inexperienced male and female students. They gave three performances to a combined audience of about 600.
At the start of the process, as a white British male I didn’t know anything about gender inequality in India. The cast didn’t know anything about acting in a play. Nor did the crew know anything about stage management or lighting, sound or working front-of-house. Not only did I learn about an issue of which I was ignorant but, more importantly, through the performance the young women felt an empowerment that they had previously been denied.
To condemn too broadly “plays that are written by men that are about innately female stuff” risks closing down creative processes that are genuinely collaborative and that give everyone opportunities to learn.
Otley, West Yorkshire
Michael Quinn’s obituary of Sheila Steafel evoked a memory of my encounter with the talented, if rather imperious, performer at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, in the 1980s.
The venue’s then press officer had arranged for me to interview Steafel about her latest one-woman show for the Basildon Evening Echo and the town’s hospital radio station that I had helped to found with editorial and financial help from the newspaper.
In the manner of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell, she entered the green room and asked: “And who, pray, are you?”. I replied that she knew perfectly well who I was and asked my first question about her impersonations of Margaret Thatcher on BBC Radio 4’s satirical show Week Ending.
“My, you have done your research well,” she responded, and from then on the interview went swimmingly. She subsequently wrote a letter, thanking me for my courtesy and regaling me with tales of her doggie family, giving me the impression she much preferred their company to any human. She was a one-off whom I will never forget.
David J Savage
Excellent article by David Benedict. “Try acting” is probably the best response. Theatre and film is not documentary, they tell stories inspired by reality and make that reality their own. It is a window into an artificially created world where anything is possible and we ask audiences to suspend their disbelief for a few hours and trust theatremakers to take them on a magnificent journey.
We have also made fantastic strides in so called ‘colour-blind’ casting – even though there was uproar at David Harewood’s Friar Tuck in the 2009 TV version of Robin Hood, the majority of the audience accepted it.
Should we now shelve Norman Jewison’s wonderful film version of Fiddler on the Roof because he is not Jewish? Talent for the role/job should be the only criteria, as even on that front, there is enough work still to be done.
It was a double privilege to be at Bath’s Theatre Royal for Rupert Everett’s ravishing production of Uncle Vanya.
In one of those cruel ironies John Light, cast in the joint leading role of Dr Astrov, was indisposed. Into the breach stepped Rob Pomfret, who, I gather, mastered the part in three days and played as if it had been his all along.
At the curtain, the other members of the cast turned to give him an elegant and heartfelt round. We should all keep an eye out for Pomfret.
“People are getting younger and younger in terms of the breaks they have and moving into main houses. We’re an industry that is getting excited about seeing new talent – it’s not a risk to support it [any more], it is seen as something that’s exciting.” Sarah Frankcom (speaking at The Stage Debut Awards)
“I still struggle with actors, writers and directors in our profession who continue to look down on those who
have done musicals… Musical theatre is a separate and completely different discipline, but it is ACTING.” Actor Peter Polycarpou (Twitter)
“I see young people thinking fame is something they want to achieve, yet you listen to any person who has been famous and they hate it. There’s nothing good about being the centre of attention and having people pry into your private life. Nowadays, it’s like big game hunting. The social media maw needs to be fed, and if someone doesn’t get their picture with you, then they’re not happy.” Actor Mark Strong (Independent)
“Theatre’s role isn’t to be didactic or inform. That’s journalism, that’s [a newspaper’s] role. We have another purpose. Pinter said it really well: ‘To go behind the mirror of our time.’ I try to feel what’s necessary for an audience to experience now.” Playwright Alexander Zeldin (Times)
“I remember in my nana and grandad’s street, there was a bit of a hill. I put on a show with my friends: we knocked on the neighbours’ doors, told them to bring their dining-room chairs and charged them to watch. We made about £8.50 and went to the shop and got some pick ’n’ mix.” Actor Chelsea Halfpenny
Email your views to email@example.com. Please mark your email as ‘for publication’. The Stage reserves the right to edit letters for publication.