Theatre Season: The Good, The Bad & The Overhyped
October in London means serious plays. This year we have Lucy Prebble’s ‘A Very Expensive Poison’ and Nancy Harris’s ‘Two Ladies’ leading plenty of state-of-the-art modern plays. I have tickets for those and ‘The Man in the White Suit’, based on my father’s favourite film (probably because he imagined himself in the lead, a backroom boffin forever in trouble). New theatres are appearing – not the usual damp railway tunnel-spaces either, but tech’d up smart venues.
Best of the last few years is the extraordinary Bridge Theatre, a success from the moment it opened its doors, with affordable seating, an amazing setting and movie-star appeal. Elsewhere things are looking less attractive. Too many London theatres feel like tiny-seated museums, their productions hampered by the the beautiful listed interiors that need to be preserved. The warhorses drag on. Agatha Christie’s ‘The Detective Did It’ is older than me and still playing, God knows to whom, as it can be seen in a hundred other countries.
‘Harry Potter and the Very Expensive Fan Fiction’ will be clogging up the Shaftesbury Theatre for centuries to come, even though the price of taking your family will clear out your bank account. Likewise, certain US shows will run forever as museum pieces, mainly because they have the unfair advantage of bottomless advertising coffers powered by giant corporations. Step forward ‘The Lion King’, ‘The Book of Mormon’ (A regional American comedy tartly described by Stephen Sondheim as ‘a good sophomore effort’, still advertised weekly on the most expensive sites in London), ‘Hamilton’ (stranded at the Victoria Palace Theatre in theatre’s no-man’s land, the equivalent of seeing ballet in Hoboken).
Then there’s ‘experience’ theatre – too much audience participation, flashing lights and ticker-tape used to paper over the cracks of poor productions. ‘Wolf of Wall Street’, ‘Great Gatsby’ and ‘Mamma Mia – The Experience’ appeal to childless Millennials who like fancy dress, according to the New Statesman.
Largely, though, all the old problems remain; the audiences are skewed older because who else can afford to go now? It feels like a dilettante’s occupation, something for champagne Socialists and old Tories to do on winter evenings. There comes a certain point when you’ve seen the key plays in repertories, and many you’d like to see can never be staged now because of their scale. Such a fate faces many plays by my favourite playwrights, Charles Wood and Peter Nichols, who explored unfashionable subjects on grand scales.
Yet whatever the bill of fare, there’s the unchanged thrill you get in midwinter, coming out from a good play, knowing there’s a glass of wine, a hot meal and a thumping discussion ahead to round off the night. I’m about to book my annual Christmas Eve treat, so any suggestions welcome…