London has quietly opened a new theatre.
The Globe’s new Sam Wanamaker Theatre is named after the man who spent much of his life restoring Shakespeare’s Globe to London. The idea is to create the real sensation of early theatre, performing in a space lit by candlelight.
The Guardian had this to say: ‘The experience is exact to the extent that the stage is lit by candles, with the result that, with the addition of 340 people sitting in a small space, ushers are warning customers to leave their coats in the cloakroom because it had turned out to be “so hot in there.” The stepped wooden benches are also relentlessly uncomfortable: no one who has a deep personal concern with both theatre of the Shakespearean era and the management of long-term sciatica should risk the Wanamaker. Whereas watching plays at the the Globe has become associated with the experience of rain pouring or dripping on to the stage and the audience, the trademarks of the Sam Wanamaker may become cascades of sweat and candlewax and visits to the osteopath the morning after.’
Not this this is keeping people away. Forgive me if the lament is becoming a litany, but as London roars out of recession and property demand outstrips supply by eight to one (cf last night’s Evening Standard), its finite leisure resources are fast vanishing. Forget going to special events; everything gets sold out months before it opens, so there’s no point in us reading reviews anymore because you and I won’t be there. I’m almost tempted to phone the box office for ‘Wolf Hall’ just to hear their tinkling, merry laughter when I ask for a seat to any performance, ever.
And forget spontaneity, too. When even bars are starting to ask you to reserve seats in advance, you know the system is overloaded. I knew there was no point in trying for tickets at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre – it holds 340 (Gemma Arterton debuts in ‘The Duchess of Malfi’, in case you want to know what you’re missing). But what staggers me is that they still offer promotional code discounts on their website, and keep reviewing the damned thing in the press. Who gets promotional codes? I’ve never had one in a lifetime of going out in London. Do I mix in the wrong circles? I don’t approve of networking, and have never done it, but clearly someone does.
The Trouble With Bots
And now, anything special that’s bookable online (i.e.. everything) is besieged by bots, swallowing up all the tickets and reflogging them at six times their face-price. A tiny handful of tickets are held back for those prepared to stand in inclement weather for hours. When I went to The Globe, having fought to get a ticket for ‘The Tempest’, the entire block in front of me was booked by Russian girls who talked and fidgeted and left 20 minutes after it started, presumably so they could say they’d been to Shakespeare. The empty seats were not resold. Restaurants are tricky, and the popularity of non-reservation policy has grown. Before Christmas I stood outside Randall & Aubin in the rain for over an hour to be served a really disappointing, overpriced meal.
The answer is clear; support your local theatres and art galleries, and travel if necessary. They have to balance art with crowd-pleasers, so you have to weed out the rubbish from the good shows, but it’s worth the effort. Right now, with wearying predictability, the arts are fighting for life under fresh rounds of cuts as Tory politicians harp on about profitability.
A nation without art for all of its people is not a democracy. All rants welcome.