The One Day of the Year

The One Day of the Year (defribillatortheatre.com)

The One Day of the Year (finboroughtheatre.co.uk)

There’s only one thing wrong with the Finborough Theatre’s current production of Alan Seymour’s The One Day of the Year: the theatre it’s in is too small.

I don’t mean the production doesn’t fit the space, or that the theatre is uncomfortable, rather that this classic Australian play needs a far bigger audience. In fact I believe this very production should be on the stage of the National Theatre.

Fiona Press and Mark Little (defbrillatortheatre.com)

Fiona Press and Mark Little (defbrillatortheatre.com)

The One Day of the Year is possibly Australia’s best play, or certainly its best-known. So I was quite shocked to see it hasn’t been produced in London since 1961, at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Is this yet another sign of the UK’s indifference to all things Australian?

The themes of the story are still current: Anzac Day in Australia is a big event. This year, being the 100th anniversary, was even bigger. I was in Australia at the time and the coverage was so intense that come the Day itself, rather like young Hughie in One Day, I felt I had had enough. Of course there are no Anzac diggers any more and very few  surviving veterans of WW2, but the event itself still sparks controversy: there are still people who believe, from the critics of the Tower of London poppies to the anti-Anzacs in Oz, that any commemoration of war is a glorification.

This is the central theme of Alan Seymour’s play. Alf is a WW2 veteran whose life since the war has been disappointing. Anzac Day is the lighlight of his year and gives him the excuse to attend the dawn parade before getting blind drunk on the streets of Sydney with his mates. Son Hughie, who is at university, is appalled, not just at his father’s drunkenness but at the public ‘celebration’ of what was one of the biggest disasters of WW1.

The Finborough production is riveting: the performances – Mark Little as Alf, James William Wright as Hughie, Paul Haley as Gallipolli veteran Wacka, Adele Querol as Joe’s posh girlfriend Jan and, in particular, Fiona Press as Alf’s wife and backbone of the family, Dot, are superb. It’s hard to imagine a better production all round.

Australia’s Arthur Miller

Alan Seymour (guardian.com)

Alan Seymour (guardian.com)

Alan Seymour, who died in March of this year, is known really only for this one play, his first. He takes no sides in his own argument, which is what makes his play so powerful. It reminded me many times as I was watching it last night of Arthur Miller – in particular his Death of a Salesman (disappointed father, stoic, loving, long-suffering wife) and All My Sons (flawed father, disillusioned sons, generational conflict). Like Miller, The One Day caused controversy at its Australian opening for daring to criticise elements of his own country. Like Miller, Seymour tells his story through flesh-and-blood characters, all of them flawed in one way or another, each of them demanding our sympathy.

I met Alan when he was working at the BBC here in London. He was tremendously helpful and encouraging when I was trying to become a TV scriptwriter. After he moved back to Australia I visited him whenever I was there at his beautiful Darlinghurst flat in Sydney. He was one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever known, and one of the most self-deprecating. He once described his play as an ‘albatross’, but I think he’d have been very proud and delighted at this latest revival of it.

He would have been even prouder to see it on stage at the National Theatre, where it should be.

Ibsen updated

The Wild Duck updated to contemporary times? With Aussie accents? Believable? Yes.

I don’t know the original though I realise Sydney’s Belvoir Street production, playing for ten days here at the Barbican in London, is stripped down to its basics. It’s a melodramatic piece, being Ibsen, and it contains a death – not, thankfully, of the duck – and in its modern context it makes perfect sense.

Wild Duck

Set in a glass box, partly presumably to keep the (live) duck from wandering into the audience, and partly to accentuate the claustrophobia of families with secrets, the play is set in an unspecified country and place – there is talk of ‘the city’ being a five hour train ride away – but the names are the original Norwegian, all of which add a sense of heightened and unsettling reality. The performances, particularly from Brendan Cowell as the likeable but distraught father, are excellent, the finale is intensely moving. My only quibble is the lengthy scene changes, particularly at the beginning (in order presumably to enable the actors to negotiate the blackouts), and the head mikes. If they have to amplify the voices do they have to make it so obvious?

Brendan Cowell (smh.com.au)

Brendan Cowell (smh.com.au)

Otherwise, a stunning piece of work. More please.

PS The duck is a star. It opens the play alone on stage and waddles towards the audience to give us a beady eye, before fluttering its wings. Such self possession. It got a round of applause, and quite rightly.

Ticket-buying international

A few months ago, in response to some baffled queries from overseas students, I investigated the ticket-buying jungle in London and turned up some rather interesting results.

As a group tour booker I realise I am extremely spoilt: I get some fantastic deals on shows, especially if my clients are students, I am given up to a month to pay and there is no booking fee. For the individual however it’s not that simple, and while people complain about West End ticket prices – with some justification perhaps – a quick look at what’s available, and how, in other English-speaking countries is a bit of an eye-opener.

The Book of Mormon NY

For my (admittedly not particularly scientific) survey of the international theatre-booking business I chose three cities: London (West End), New York (Broadway) and Sydney (where I happen to be at the time), and  five shows currently running or opening soon: The Book of Mormon (London and New York), War Horse (London and Sydney) and three ‘straight’ plays: Driving Miss Daisy (Sydney), Orphans (New York) and Passion Play (London). I picked the most expensive and least expensive seat available on random dates in March and April.
Driving Miss Daisy

The results in full are at the end of this blog, but suffice to say:

WE LONDONERS ARE EXTREMELY LUCKY.

Admittedly the low pound helps, but the most remarkable discoveries I made were:

  • a premium seat for The Book of Mormon in New York costs more than three times the equivalent in London, at $487.75 (£325.16) compared with £97 in London.*
  • the cheapest seat for the same show is likewise, at $262.75 (£175.17) in NY and £51.50 in London (restricted view).
  • apart from Mormon, which is a bit of a special case, most West End shows do offer affordable seats: you can see see the London War Horse for £16.30 (restricted view, including the booking fee) and Passion Play for £18 (ditto).
  • booking fees in both Sydney and New York are three to four times as much as in London: up to AU$11 per ticket in Sydney (£7.64) and US$10.75 in NY (£7.17) compared with between £2 & £3.50 in London.
  • all booking websites are not the same. The US site for instance – telegraph.com – was not very customer-friendly. It was almost impossible to find the cheapest seat for anything and every time you make a minor change you have to enter another verification code (the jumbled numbers or letters to prove you are a human being), some of which were so impossible to decipher I had to have several goes. None of them however was as clear and easily navigable as the excellent National Theatre site.
  • a premium seat for Driving Miss Daisy in Sydney (with a cast of three) is one and a half times as expensive as the top price for a show in the West End, and considerably more expensive than the top price ticket for the Sydney production of War Horse (cast of dozens, human and non-).

*Using current conversion rates of US$1.5 to the £ and AU$1.44 to the £.

Of course there are reasons for some of this, not least – in the case of Sydney – the population, which at 4.6m or so is just over half the population of London, and means that ‘hot’ shows like Daisy (with Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones) is only on for four weeks, before moving on to Melbourne. (And their beaches are better than ours, not to mention the weather.)

CONCLUSION:

  • It confirms my (unscientifically held) opinion that London is the theatre capital of the world. Not only do we have the greatest variety and diversity of shows, in the West End and elsewhere, but most important of all we have
  • AFFORDABLE SEATS. As a teacher and tour organiser and theatre lover it pains me to think that anyone, young or old, rich or poor, should be excluded from being able to see the best shows in the world.
  • for our American cousins it is worth considering a trip to London if only to save on the cost of theatre tickets.

~~~~~

My findings:

SYDNEYSydney Opera House

DRIVING MISS DAISY

Ticket agent : Ticketmaster.com.au
Booking fees: Per transaction ‘handling fee’ $6.95  plus processing fee for credit and debit cards 2.3%.
Website: Floor plan with available seats, identity code fairly easy to decipher (except for irritating Facebook popup).

Thursday 14 March:
Premium: Row A (3rd row Stalls) $199.90 + 4.42 + 6.95   =   AU$211.27 (£146.72)
Cheapest: Back row Circle $119.90 + 2.58 + 6.95   =   AU$129.43 (£89.88) 

WAR HORSE

Ticket agent: ticketmaster.com.au
Booking fees: as above

Tuesday April 9:
Premium: Row A (3rd row Stalls) $124.90 + 6.95 + 2.65  =   $134.50 (£93.40)
Cheapest: Grand Circle $89.90 + 6.95 +1.85   =   $ 91.75 (£63.72)

~~~

Broadway 2NEW YORK

THE BOOK OF MORMON

Ticket agent: telecharge.com.
Booking fees: Service charge $8 + ‘Handling charge’ $2.75
Website: Not user-friendly. Asks for identity code every time you make a change, which is often unreadable,  seating plan available only on request and cheapest tickets hard to find.

Thursday April 11:
Premium: Row E (Orchestra) $477 + 8 + 2.75   =   US$487.75 (£325.16)
Cheapest (that I could find): (Mezzanine) $252 + 8 + 2.75   =   $262.75 (£175.17)

ORPHANS,  starring Alec Baldwin, Ben Foster & Tom Sturridge

Ticket agent:
telecharge.com
Booking fees: as above

Thursday April 4:
Premium: Row H (Orchestra)  $200 + $8 + £2.75   =   $210.75 (£131.72)
Cheapest: (back row Mezzanine) $67 + $8 + $2.75   =   $75 (£50)

~~~

LONDONShaftesbury Avenue

THE BOOK OF MORMON

Ticket agent: delfont-mackintosh.com
Booking fees:  £2 + £1 optional donation to Comic Relief
Website: easy; no identity codes.

Thursday 13 June: (first available seats)
Premium: Circle (1 remaining) £95.00 + £2   =    £97.00
Cheapest: Rear stalls (restricted view due to sound desk) £49.50 + 2   =   £51.50

WAR HORSE

Ticket agent: Warhorse.seetickets.com 
Booking fees: 
from £2.30 – £3.50 transaction fee
Website: Okay – no codes, seating plan too small to decipher

Thursday 4 April:
Premium: Row G Stalls £84 + 3.50   =   £87.50
Cheapest: Row A Circle (restricted view due to safety rail) £14 + 2.30   =   £16.30
Cheapest unrestricted view £24 + 3.20   =   £27.20  

PASSION PLAY

Ticket agent: Atgtickets.com
Booking fees: £3 transaction fee
Website:   Floor plan, no code, but you have to begin again from scratch when you make a change.

Thursday 9 May:
Premium: Row J Stalls £75 + 3    =   £78
Cheapest: Upper Circle (restricted view, lose front of stage) £15 + 3   =   £18