Coronavirus – The show does go on

Theatres and cinemas throughout the UK, and in many other countries, are closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This puts a lot of people out of work, with no knowing where their next penny is coming from.

It also leaves the punters, ie us, without any form of live entertainment. But the theatre and cinema businesses have not stood still. I’ve been compiling a list of theatre companies and other organisations who have set up a live streaming service, some for free. I will be watching a good deal of what’s on offer and posting the odd review. I will also try to update the list from time to time.

Happy viewing!

ARCOLA – https://www.gofasterstripe.com/cgi-bin/website.cgi?page=videofull&id=38659
Mark Thomas :  Check-Up: Our NHS @ 70. Pay what you can. Till 28 March. The Arcola is in dire need of funds, so be generous!

DIGITAL THEATRE – https://www.digitaltheatre.com/consumer/productions – £9.99 per month. Digital Theatre have been filming live performances of West End shows and have a large catalogue. One hopes part of their subscription goes towards the people who made the shows.

LEXI – https://thelexicinema.co.uk/film/virtual-mustang. Showing today, 23 March, at 6.30pm. Also Mubihttps://mubi.com/leximember.  A kind of arthouse cinema version of Netflix. First 3 months free, courtesy of Lexi, thereafter £9.99 per month.

The GLOBE THEATRE have an online streaming service for some of their past productions. £4.99 to rent, £7.99 to buy. https://globeplayer.tv/ 

The NATIONAL THEATRE is not offering a streaming service yet, but with their huge archive of NT Live productions no doubt this will come in due course.

THE STAGE – https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/promoted/2020/where-can-i-watch-theatre-online-coronavirus-and-theatre-streaming/ – has a comprehensive list of shows available on all sorts of devices. Personally I wouldn’t want to watch a play on my mobile via Instagram but no doubt a lot of people do.

I and You – Hampstead Theatre will make its 2018 production of I and You available to watch on Instagram. The play by US playwright Lauren Gunderson was directed by Edward Hall and starred Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams and Zach Wyatt. It was original filmed for IGTV in 2018 and will be released at 10am on March 23 [today] and be available until March 29.

Luke Wright – The poet, performer and playwright – winner of The Stage Edinburgh Award for his performance in  his 2015 play What I Learned From Johnny Bevan – will be performing a poetry set every night live on Twitter at 8pm.

Cyprus Avenue – First staged at the Royal Court, David Ireland’s play Cyprus Avenue was adapted for BBC Four in 2019, where it mixed stage performance with on-location footage in Belfast. It will be available for free for a month from March 27 via the Royal Court’s and the Space’s website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages.

Timpson: The Musical – The Stage Edinburgh Award-winning company Gigglemug has made Timpson: The Musical available on YouTube. The Stage called it a “zany musical comedy that hits all the right notes.”

Patsy Trench
March 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

West End ticket prices (revisited)

I have written about the price of West End shows a few times over the years – see here – so I was especially intrigued to come upon an article in The Stage (unavailable behind a paywall unless you subscribe to the newspaper) which set out, in great and meticulously-researched detail, a number of enlightening facts I was not previously aware of.

Firstly, according to ticketing guru Richard Howle (The Stage, March 28, 2018), it appears the West End theatre pays more in VAT (20% of all ticket prices goes straight to the government) than the government hands out in subsidies to all arts venues in the London area. Which effectively means the West End theatre subsidises not just the London fringe but dance, opera and arts centres as well.

Secondly, while the top – or premium – ticket price for more than half of West End shows exceeds £100, such are the costs of mounting a West End show, and in particular a musical, if you’re paying less than £30 for your ticket it’s more than likely the producer of the show is subsidising it. Or more specifically, the 5% of the audience who can afford the premium tickets are subsidising the rest of us in the cheap seats.

That made me think a bit. I’ve said before, and I’m going to say it again, one of the great joys of living in London is knowing the best theatre in the world is available to you, and by and large at an affordable price.

To back up this claim I’ve done another whistle-stop tour of some West End ticket prices as of today, the first day of 2019. Ticket prices quoted do not include the booking fee, if there is one.

To begin with the obvious:

HAMILTON: Ticket prices range from £20 to £250. You can buy a £250 ticket for most performances, but for £20 tickets you will have to wait until after April.

Hamilton programme

EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE: tickets available from £20 to £85.

LES MISERABLES: £29.75 (Upper Circle side, partly restricted view) to £127.50

THE BOOK OF MORMON: £27.25 to £99.75.

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME: £18 to £92.50.

Curious 2

(nationaltheatre.org.uk)

THE LION KING: £42.50 to £190.

MAMMA MIA: £27.50 to £97.25.

CONCLUSION: If you are able to wait a bit, and you are flexible with dates, you can see the best shows in London for less than £30 (excepting The Lion King, which being partly a children’s show is a great pity). Long may this remain so.

WARNING: As I’ve said before, be careful who you buy tickets from. If you are browsing online head for the OFFICIAL site of the show you are interested in and IGNORE anything that has [Ad] by it as it’s probably a ticket agent charging a markup.

Patsy Trench
1 January 2019
London (the greatest city in the world – sorry Mr Miranda.)

 

Peter Nichols at 90

Peter Nichols always was my favourite living playwright, and still is, even though his plays are rarely produced nowadays.  He writes about difficult topics – much of it from his own life  – yet manages to be both seeringly funny and heartbreaking at the same time.

Peter Nichols (standard.co.uk)

(standard.co.uk)

His best-known play is probably A Day in the Death of Joe Eggabout a severely disabled child, based on his own experience as a young dad. My favourite – and, I was interested to hear, his also – is Forget-me-not Lane, about his childhood growing up in Bristol with his travelling salesman father, nickname ‘Hitler’, and his long-suffering mother. What you might call the British Death of a Salesman. Here again he manages to write about dislikeable people (his father) with compassion and understanding and even a kind of empathy. However harsh the subject, however much he takes the micky out of his characters, his plays are overlaid with great humanity, and a strange affection for human vulnerability and weakness.

Bearing all that in mind it’s surprising to hear he was known as a bit of a curmudgeon, with a reputation for complaining about things in public – such as, for instance, a time when he was commissioned by the National Theatre to write a play and subsequently ignored, even snubbed. So it was an especial pleasure to attend what was described as a ‘panel discussion’  at the British Library celebrating ‘Peter Nichols at 90‘; to see he is still alive, well, lively, with an amazingly retentive memory and not in the least curmudgeonly. The ‘discussion’ – more like a celebration of him and his plays – was chaired by the director Michael Grandage and featured readings from Stephanie Cole, Roger Allam, Sarah Woodward and Sam Swainsbury in front of a packed audience of stars from stage and screen, and Michael Blakemore.

What a privilege. I am only sorry he has given up writing plays. There were a lot of young people in the audience, some of them directors apparently. As Michael Grandage suggested, some of them may be moved to give his plays a new and much-deserved airing.

© Patsy Trench
London

 

 

Buying theatre tickets (3)

It’s the third time I’ve blogged on this topic. Things change so fast on the internet these days so I thought it time for yet another update.

Most people booking theatre tickets, including me, begin with Googling the show’s title. Fortunately Google now makes it clear which items are paid ads and which aren’t, as invariably the first sites to appear will be ads and are more than likely to be tickets agents. Tickets agents are perfectly respectable organisations (so long as they are members of STAR – see my earlier blog here.) and just occasionally  have special offers. Every outlet has its own allocation, but generally speaking you are better off booking through the official site.

Taking two ‘hot’ shows currently running in the West End as examples, this is what happens when I try to book two mid-price seats for Thursday 21 April:

The Book of Mormon

Googling The Book of Mormon, the first four sites that crop up are ads, three of them for ticket agents and one for the Mormons themselves. You have to scroll down to the fifth item before you reach the show’s official site, which is www.bookofmormonlondon.com

The Book of Mormon

(atgtickets.com)

When you click on the official site it shows you a seating plan and you get to choose your seats. For some reason however when I tried to click on the seats I wanted most of the apparently available tickets appeared not to be available, which means either their site is faulty or my mouse. I did manage to get two tickets in Row L of the Stalls for £50 each plus a booking fee of £4.50, totalling £104.50.

On theatrepeople.com  you are given a selection of tickets available on your chosen date and two tickets in Row K of the Stalls will cost you £64 per ticket, face value (ie before their markup) £50. This transaction will cost you a total of £128.

lovetheatre.com only offers ‘Stalls 1st price, 2nd price’ etc., though once you’ve clicked on them you are told the seat numbers. A ticket here in Row M is £75 + £3.50 booking fee, making it a total of £157.

This is what I think they call a no-brainer.

People Places & Things

People Places & Things

(nationaltheatre.org.uk)

Four ads come up here of which the first is the official site at Wyndham’s: wyndhams.fromtheboxoffice.comTickets in Row J of the Stalls will set you back £74.50 each, a total of £149.50 for two. (Yes, this is a hot ticket.)

On lovetheatre.com Row M in the Stalls costs £62.50 plus a socking great booking fee of £13.80 per ticket, making a total for two of £152.60.

You can also book this show through the National Theatre (it was an NT production) – www.nationaltheatre.org.uk. Stalls seats for this same date are sold out but you can grab a couple of tickets at the back of the Dress Circle for £62.50, totalling £125 (no booking fee). You can also buy tickets at £15 sitting on the stage, if being up that close appeals.

Of the ‘legitimate’ tickets agents some are transparent and helpful – like theatrepeople – and offer you specific seats, so you can see exactly where you’re sitting and what the face value ticket price is, others just charge you a lump sum and say ‘tickets will be allocated at the box office’, which is pretty poor show in my opinion.

Fringe theatres do not charge a booking fee, nor does the National Theatre.

Enjoy your visit to the theatre and if you have any questions about booking theatre tickets in London do email me on patsytrench@gmail.com.

Balderdash or Beckett?

One of the hazards the script reader or assessor is bound to come up against from time to time when confronted by a script that is, shall we say, ‘off the wall’, is: is this balderdash, or could this writer be the new Beckett?

Samuel Beckett (telegraph.co.uk)

Samuel Beckett (telegraph.co.uk)

It’s not just playwrights. All creators – writers, painters, composers and others – who genuinely break new ground are likely to find it an uphill battle winning over the general public. Beckett himself – whose Waiting for Godot was received enthusiasically at its premier in France but got a definite thumbs-down in London – might not have become the icon he was had it not been for the critics Harold Hobson and Kenneth Tynan. The same applies to Harold Pinter’s Birthday Party and John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. It takes a far-sighted person to recognise genius, and the rest of us have to run to catch up.

 

 

Angry young man … Kenneth Haigh (right) as Jimmy Porter, with Helena Hughes, Alan Bates and Mary Ure

Mary Ure, Alan Bates, Helena Hughes & Kenneth Haigh in Look Back in Anger (theguardian.com)

These thoughts were going through my mind while I was watching the latest play by the young playwright Alistair McDowall, called ‘X’, at the Royal Court. Not I hasten to add that I thought it either balderdash or Beckett, but whenever I find myself baffled by something it’s hard not to think: is it me being stupid, or does this piece make no sense at all?

McDowall, like many writers, does not write simple, chronological, easy-to-grasp stuff. His plays – or should I say this play – is not intended to make obvious sense. It plays with time, and reality and nightmare, featuring as it does a group of people stuck in a spaceship on Pluto waiting to be rescued by an Earth with whom they’ve lost all contact. Baffled as I was when I was watching it I read the script afterwards, which helped a bit, but there was still something in me that wondered whether there might not be an element of the Emperor’s New Clothes: if you didn’t get it or you didn’t like it, you’re stupid.

X (ft.com)

Darrell D’Silva & Jessica Raine in ‘X’ (ft.com)

I don’t mind admitting to being stupid. I do mind missing out on something that I am too dense to appreciate, or see the point of. I read the reviews, which were mixed, to see if they could throw light on it. One said all was revealed in the final scene, but I didn’t understand the final scene. A friend said he found it moving. I said I didn’t, not really, because I didn’t feel particularly engaged with any of the characters.

And that, I think after all, is the crux of the matter. As I tell my students, there’s only one thing you need to know when you’re watching a play, and that’s your own mind. It’s not always easy, but it is important. You like a play not because you feel you should, or because the critics liked it, or your friends liked it, or because it stars a clever actor, but because you found it engaging.

For the full review I wrote of the play on londontheatre1.com please click here.

 

Bad Jews

A problem for any playwright, or any writer, is how do you present an obnoxious character without making him or her obnoxious not just to the other characters on stage but to the audience as well?

Bad Jews (trh.co.uk)

(trh.co.uk)

Playwright Joshua Harman goes some way to solving this problem by making his play Bad Jews a comedy and the character of Daphna (Ailsa Joy) – Miss Obnoxious personified – ludicrously over the top. Her nemesis, cousin Liam (Ilan Goodman), comes close to matching her. Liam’s brother Jonah (Jos Slovick) goes to the opposite extreme by becoming Mr Passive. (You can’t really blame him.) The fourth member of the group, the ludicrously ditzy Melody (Antonia Kinlay), an outsider not just because she is not Jewish, or family, is only marginally less irritating than the other three.

Would you want to spend 100 minutes in this sort of company? I am in the minority I think by declaring No, actually, after half an hour of them I was ready to scream. I am aware this is exactly the playwright’s intention, and that is partly the problem. The play consists of one continuous row, first – and mostly one-sided – between Daphna and  Jonah and then between Daphna and Liam. The subject of the row is, basically, Jewishness, and who has the right to their recently deceased Grandfather’s heirloom, or ‘chai’, a gold necklace he concealed beneath his tongue throughout his two years in Auschwitz. Daphna, the ‘good Jew’, who plans to go to live in Israel when she’s graduated and join the army, thinks it should be hers. Liam, the ‘bad Jew’ – ie non-practising – who is actually in possession of it, wants to give it to his girlfriend Melody in place of a ring when he proposes to her.

I am not Jewish, and you don’t have to be to understand the issues – how important it is to keep the faith, or to feel free to ‘marry out’. I know this is a play, and a comedy, and I was aware last night the audience were laughing their socks off. My problem was the playwright, and his actors, were trying far too hard to make us laugh  – whether it is Liam being driven to a nervous breakdown by cousin Daphna or Melody, a failed opera singer, giving her rendition of ‘Summertime’. I would merrily have wrung the necks of all four of them, the sooner the better. And yes, I know, this was probably the playwright’s intention.

 Patsy Trench
29 February 2016

Curtain Up at the V & A Museum

The Theatre Museum used to have its own building in Covent Garden, but ever since it was taken over and minimised inside a remote corner of the Victoria & Albert Museum it’s very easy not to know it still exists.

Now, until August, the V & A has expanded the museum space to accommodate an exhibition called Curtain Upcelebrating 40 years of London and New York theatre and  the 40th anniversary of the Olivier Awards.

Curtain Up (vam.ac.uk)

(vam.ac.uk)

Most of the original exhibits are still on view: the costumes, Kylie’s dressing room, the huge Rhinoceros and Joey from War Horse. But now there is much more, including a Curious Incident room, where you can sit in a miniature version of the set with the lights flashing amid that evocative music; extracts from shows such as Matilda and Les Mis; displays of old programmes, letters to and from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office (the censor) requesting changes to be made to plays by Joe Orton and others; and you can listen in on interviews with actors, designers and directors etc on headphones attached to monitors.

Unfortunately, considering theatre is all about sound and vision, much of it is inaudible and/or hard to see. The censors’ letters and old prompt scripts for instance are displayed in understandably dim light, but too far away to read (for my ageing eyes). And the interviews, transmitted through headphones, are virtually inaudible.  The discussion with theatre people from both sides of the Atlantic comparing the influence of critics for instance, which I was particularly interested to hear, was a case in point. (I did ask a lady attendant about this and she said yes, there had been some problems with sound, which they are trying to address.)

Curtain Up (thestage.co.uk)

(thestage.co.uk)

Being an old-fashioned and conventional soul I do still like my museum exhibits to be displayed in chronological order however; or at least to give me an overview of what to me is the most fascinating way that theatre has evolved, and continues to. I acknowledge it’s only covering the last 40 years but I still didn’t get much of a sense of this in the exhibition – changing shapes of theatres for example, and changing audiences and expectations. That said it was a brief visit and I intend going back, when hopefully the sound issue will be resolved (and the schoolkids are back at school – though it’s great to see them enjoying the hands-on exhibits).

The exhibition runs until 31 August 2016 and is free. For more information:
www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/display-curtain-up/