War Horse – A Thoroughbred of Theatre.

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In recent years the NT production of War Horse has been wowing audiences throughout the world. It’s been on my “must see” list for the last few years but I’ve never got round to seeing it (that is being rectified tonight!).

I’ve found it an interesting production to watch as it has blossomed, becoming a resident show in London’s West End and then seeing it become a global export and sensation. In many ways it vindicates the public funding the NT receives as it has brought in much more than ever it took of public funding and must have repaid that back in tax tenfold (if not more) by now.

I’m pleased that it has also been able to be taken overseas. I’ve said numerous times on this blog how I hold the NT in high esteem and I’m glad its theatrical magic is being seen by those unable to make it to the Southbank in London.

A recent social media Q&A with author Michael Morpurgo also showed how this production is engaging with its audience. I was especially intrigued that the author has made cameo appearances in the play in the West End, Broadway, Canada, Australia and Salford! The life this production has outside of its stage confines is impressive. Whether it is engaging the writer via social media or Joey the horse appearing at national events, this show pops up all over the place, not in a tacky marketing way but as something people identify and engage with.

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The way the production has touched people across the spectrum of age and nationality again shows the power that theatre can have when all the pieces of writing, direction, cast and staging come together causing alchemy to occur. It happens only rarely and the NT is perhaps one of the best theatrical crucibles we have that achieves it regularly.

I know that many of my regular readers will be glad I am finally going to see the show (especially my antipodean friend Simon Parris!) . The review will follow soon. I’m excited to get to see this theatrical thoroughbred and I salute the success it has been and continues to be for British Theatre in the world today.

The Importance of Theatre for Britain and for Me

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It’s been a while since I’ve written a musing of mine on Theatre. With our General Election coming up in the UK in a few weeks time. Now is a good a time as ever for a brief musing of mine. Especially as the good folks at MyVoucherCodes wanted me to as part of the National Go To a Play Day campaign.

Theatre is essential to a socially and artistically vibrant society. I’ve said it so many times on this blog but we are so spoiled in the UK (especially those of us near London) with the variety and level of theatrical excellence we can participate in. That goes for the amateur/community sector as well as the professional sector.

It’s telling that as ever, the Arts are not really being talked about in the run up to the election. Again I’ll sound like the proverbial broken record but for every pound invested in the arts by the government, the arts generates £2 back for our government. Also stats reveal that as many people go to the theatre each week as go to football matches, but alas the back pages of newspapers are devoted to overpaid men kicking a piece of leather about rather than the diversity and variety of theatre that happens everyday on this glorious isle.

Regular readers will notice that my reviews have not been as forthcoming as previously (I used to go at least once a week to the theatre at one point). That’s not because theatre is still not a huge part of my life, just circumstances change and so do priorities sometimes. I went to my local community theatre on Saturday and saw their splendid version of Peter Quilter’s Glorious. As clichéd as it’ll sound it was a glorious night out.

For me theatre is vital for many reasons. Saturday night it was all about having fun, relaxing, seeing friends and getting away from cares of world for a few hours. Other times it’s about engaging with the very issues that concern me. Still at other times it’s about having issues I wasn’t even aware of being brought to my attention. Other times it’s about seeing playwrights work that I admire and have a passion for, (Mamet, Beckett or Rattigan especially!)

One reason I love theatre so much is that it gives me a chance to see the world through someone else’s eyes. admittedly I may not agree or like how they see the world, but life is richer for the range of “life lenses” I’ve viewed it through at the theatre.

So as we enter this “theatrical farce” of a General Election coming up I look forward to taking refuge in the theatre and then leaving it engaging with my world in new ways.

 

 

 

Theatrical Sites of Stockholm

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I’ve just returned from a lovely holiday in Stockholm. Whilst there I took in a few of the theatrical sites, I saw Swan Lake at the Kungliga Operan a full review of that stunning Opera House and ballet will follow in a day or so.

After we’d decided to head off to Stockholm I consulted my trusty DK Eyewitness Guide and noticed that there was an August Strindberg Museum actually based in his finally residence, that went on my list of must sees, and in fact we visited it on our first day there.

Strindberg's Desk

Strindberg’s Desk

Following a trip up three floors in a “Thoroughly Modern Millie” lift as my wife called it, we arrived at the museum. Half of it is his apartment as it was when he lived there. It’s quite spooky to wander around his apartment and see his personal artefacts.

I studied Strindberg at college and found him an interesting if somewhat confusing writer. This museum opened up his life and world to me. It was set out in themed exhibits looking at various aspects of his life, such as his religious views and how they developed, his portrayal and views on women, his pacifism etc. This was a really good way of getting to grips with this multifaceted man.

He’s held in very high esteem in his native Sweden and this museum enabled me to see why.

Me with Strindberg statue outside the Swedish National Theatre

Me with Strindberg statue outside the Swedish National Theatre

The other “theatrical” museum I had to visit was Abba The Museum. It was a great chance to see their memorabilia and find out a bit more about the group via the guided tour you listen to recorded by Abba themselves. I was slightly surprised that there is only a passing mention to their musical, Mama Mia! A tiny display of the wedding dress from the show and as you leave the museum you leave via the bridge akin to the end of the musical. For a musical that has been so successful I was surprised they gave it so little promotion here.

Alas they wouldn't let me try these on.

Alas they wouldn’t let me try these on.

That's ALOT of records!!

That’s ALOT of records!!

It’s a wonderful city but theatrically the highlight for me was the Kungliga Operan – but I’ll save that for a future post!

Memories: Saving your Theater Experience

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Here’s a guest post from Amy at VividSeats.com – some great ideas on how to save your theatre (that’s how we spell it this side of the pond Amy!) experience:

If you’re a theater enthusiast, you probably spend lots of your money, time and energy going to shows – lots of them. And, because you love the experience so much, you want to be able to keep each performance alive. We’re all busy, and you might need to move on to the next thing in a hurry, but you don’t want to lose the splendor of what you’ve seen. So, what do you do? There are a few creative, simple and inexpensive ways to preserve your theater tickets or playbills so that you can easily be reminded of what they represent.

If you have time and wall space, a display of framed playbills looks organized, colorful and will definitely help you to recall every show you’ve ever loved. The benefit to this is that not only is it storage for your keepsakes, but its art. In addition, it’s an excellent conversation piece when someone comes to your home. Really, wouldn’t it be fun to have a guest say, “You saw Book of Mormon? (Tickets from VividSeats.com). I hear it’s the hottest ticket in town!”

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If you want something more portable or less time-consuming, a playbill binder can keep your playbills neat, safe and well-preserved. That way, you can save the entire playbill, rather than just the cover, if you’re inclined to do so. It gives you the flexibility to take it on the road if you’re traveling and it’s a way that you can save them in good condition in the event that you may wish to display them differently later.

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There are a few other ways that you can keep your souvenirs preserved without a lot of fancy binders or frames. If you want to save theater tickets as a record of what you’ve seen, you can keep their quality intact longer with a spritz of hairspray. That’s right – hairspray has lots of uses – some people use it to catch a run in a stocking, others for preserving flowers or charcoal drawings, and it adds what amounts to a coat of shellac over your ticket. It’s not going to keep them looking pristine, but it will help to keep the color sharp and give the paper a little more strength.

Another simple way to keep those memories intact is to laminate your playbills or ticket stubs. You can do this on your own if you have a laminating machine, or you could take your materials to a retailer like Staples that can do it for you for a nominal fee.

Of course, so many of us aren’t do-it-yourselfers. For those of us who aren’t craftily-inclined, there are scrapbooks you can purchase that all you need to do is insert tickets and add your own notes or photos. The benefit is that you’re not limited to just tickets, or just playbills, when you create your own scrapbook. Often, the best memories are photos of you and the people with whom you went to the show. Some premade scrapbooks, like the one below, even have additional pockets for playbills or other keepsakes.

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Want something even faster than that? Dump your ticket stubs in a shadow box. You’ll quickly be able to check out the collection that you’ve amassed. It takes virtually no effort (you could make your own, but you can purchase a pre-made one, too) to simply place each ticket in the box. Not only do you have something cute to hang on your wall or place on the shelf, but you can re-open them and look at your ticket stubs any time.

Have you considered keeping your tickets in a jar? You can preserve your pickles and jams in jars, so why not tickets?

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Cute, right? Makes a nice souvenir keepsake that you can store anywhere, and it will hold lots of tickets. There are plenty of other creative ways to keep the memories alive of the shows you’ve enjoyed, the people you were with and the times that you had. For the theater buff that’s also sentimental, these ideas can help you to keep your theater tickets and playbills safe and organized. Enjoy!

Premium Seats for £126 – Are They Worth it?

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The price of a West End theatre ticket has now tipped over the £100 mark. “Tipped” is not the right word, “leaped” would be better. The Book of Mormon released their new tickets which included a hike in prices. A day later The Audience followed by raising its premium seats to £126 as well.

I have to say I think it’s a shame that the West End has crossed the £100 line. I understand theatre is an expensive creative endeavour and people clearly are willing to pay this price (and more to touts). However I do feel that it prices the regular theatre goer out of the range of some shows. Even if you could get a half price premium ticket to either of the above shows, you’d still be forking out £63. I’m certainly not going to bother to see The Book of Mormon for a good few years when they’ll be offering discount tickets.

Likewise The Audience while it’d be nice to see Helen Mirren performing, the play itself doesn’t appear to be getting a “you must go and see this” response by those I trust. I have a feeling the opinions of critics could become more of a factor for people choosing which show to see going forward.

Don’t get me wrong, I DO expect to pay for tickets, and I’m well aware of the financial implications putting on a West End Show (or any show for that matter) entails. I just feel that the West End has taken a step which I think in the long-term may have negative effects. I like anyone have to budget and make choices with my hard-earned money. Shows charging what I perceive to be excessive tickets prices won’t get my wonga.

Many are excited about the “new” audience The Book of Mormon is bringing to the West End, however if they leave assuming the price of all the other shows is £126, I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Many contemporaries of mine avoid the West End due to a perception that it is “too expensive”. I take my hat off to the marketing gurus behind The Book of Mormon though, they have truly created a juggernaut that is bringing in millions of pounds worth of tickets. I’m skeptical that their success will spill over to other shows though. 

Some have said it is “only” £126 for a ticket, but going to the theatre is seldom an individual event. I have only been to a show or play on my own a handful of times. I go with my wife usually, so now suddenly it’s £252 for tickets, plus a bite to eat beforehand, a programme for show, ice cream in interval and travel. All of a sudden a West End show is a several hundred pounds.

We keep being told the West End is bucking the recession trend, I wonder how much of this is due to the increase in ticket prices as opposed to an increase in audiences? I’m thrilled the West End is doing so well and there is a genuine buzz around about the great shows that are on offer at the moment. I’m just concerned that the trajectory can’t keep going up and up.

Perhaps the West End is a different theatrical beast? It is an event to go there, and it’s prices and shows should reflect that? It does cater for a more transient audience than other theatres and it certainly does offer spectacle and some of the best theatre in the world. Maybe I just need to get used to sitting up in the gods and save my pennies for those shows I really want to see. The West End is my “local” theatre which is a privilege I know, maybe I’m being greedy, as I want to see everything all the time.

I also think the ticket prices help people promote/justify the shows with the zeal The Book of Mormon has created. Very few people who fork out £126 (or more to the touts) are going to say afterwards, “yeah it was an ok show” are they?

When I write my reviews a key consideration I now have is, “does this ticket represent good value for money?”, in the current climate, that is really important. As I think the productions have to justify their ticket prices, is an “ok” show really worth those premium rates?

Let’s hope the rates plateau at this for the forseeable future, and we’ll see what happens.

(Last year I wrote a post, 16 Ways to go the Theatre and Not Pay Full Price click here to read it)

Photos from The Real Inspector Hound

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Here are a few photos from The Real Inspector Hound, which was on at The Bridewell Theatre in London the other week and in which I played the part of Moon.

The Cast of The Real Inspector Hound

The Cast of The Real Inspector Hound

Me relaxing backstage, just before curtain up.

Me relaxing backstage, just before curtain up.

I had to wear these shoes - I quite liked being 5 inches taller!

I had to wear these shoes – I quite liked being 5 inches taller!

"2 critics combining to achieve continuity" - me as Moon and James as Birdboot

“2 critics combining to achieve continuity” – me as Moon and James as Birdboot

"It's a whodunit man, look at it!"

“It’s a whodunit man, look at it!”

Why helloooo

Why helloooo

Anyone for tennis?

Anyone for tennis?

Inspector Hound (but is it the real one??)

Inspector Hound (but is it the real one??)

Those swamp boots are hard to remove

Those swamp boots are hard to remove

Bridge 4's?

Bridge 4’s?

Star of the show - Mrs Drudge

Star of the show – Mrs Drudge

"Ahh the final piece of the mystery"

“Ahh the final piece of the mystery”

"Are you the real inspector hound?"

“Are you the real Inspector Hound?”

Thanks to Michael Fair for the photos, and to all those that came and supported the show.

Theatre Etiquette – Guest Post

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Back in July of last year I commented on my post Standing Ovations, that a theatre etiquette post would be done at a future date. Well that date is now and I’m grateful to Namrata Shah for writing this guest post. Namrata works for Shows In London, check out their website for some great deals.

So over to Nams:

Theatre Etiquette

Watching a West End show is a magical experience: from the moment you step into one of the theatres’ auditoria your senses are treated to the stunning interior. The moment the curtain goes up, the hushed anticipation amongst the audience is palpable. As you journey through the scenes, you immerse yourself into the stories of the characters. And as the cast take their bows, you stand in ovation – left wanting more. Well, that’s “ideal” scenario for a perfect trip to the theatre.

On average, attending a theatre show is a yearly occurrence for many – and those who go, know there is a certain behaviour expected of them. For those new to the scene, it can be a daunting prospect. Just Google “Theatre Etiquette” and you’ll find scores of solemn posts on what is right and wrong. So Andrew Peterson, with over 25 years of experience in tickets for Shows in London, talks through his light-hearted version of the Dos and Don’ts of theatre-going.

Dress code?

The question most often asked at Shows in London is what should I wear at the theatre? The answer is: clothes. Whilst a loin-cloth might be technically acceptable it should only be worn by people with the body for it. Across the pond, on Broadway, it is more common to dress formally; although full-blown evening gowns and tuxedos are no longer required, you’re sure to turn heads if you arrive in ripped jeans and ill-fitting hooded sweatshirt, more frequently referred to as a “hoodie” by today’s youth. Thankfully though, here in London, there is no formal dress code.

Sounds during the performance

Another area of great debate amongst the theatreati is on the subject of noise in the auditorium. I believe it’s unreasonable to expect complete silence and stillness from a human audience – part of the beauty of theatre is the experience of a live performance and that comes with its very own collection of sound effects. Nevertheless, leaving a mobile phone able to ring during the show is completely unacceptable. Luckily it has been a while since I’ve heard the trill of a ringtone mid-performance – but the last time I did, it was an ill-fated young lady who had to root around her over-sized handbag whilst the audience were treated to a rendition of “the crazy frog”. This was a good 5 years after “the crazy frog” craze. If the surrounding weren’t so dark, I’m sure we’d have also witnessed an extremely red face.

In the same arena lies the question of whether it is acceptable to answer calls (no!) and check text messages (only if you are discreet and your phone doesn’t emit a phosphorescent glow similar to nuclear waste on TV shows from the 70s). I would take my cue from any tutting from fellow audience members. Until someone huffs-and-puffs, keep going!

Talking, however, is another matter. Gasps, cheers and screams (think Woman in Black) are fine. But frequent elucidations of the plot are a no-no. I remember a theatre goer who would lean over to his wife after every joke, with a lengthy explanation of why it was funny.

How about other bodily noises? I do feel sympathy for those afflicted with unexpected coughs, insofar as I feel bad that they’ll have to scramble past the entire row of seats and won’t be able to do it quickly or efficiently. My sympathy wears pretty thin when we approach the second or third minute of coughing, and they stay seated with no attempt to resolve the situation.

The expulsion of gases from any other orifice is completely unacceptable, as in any other social situation.

Refreshments

All theatres have well-stocked bars and snack stands. Of course, the pricing on these items don’t present value-for-money, but if you’ve forked out enough to purchase your theatre ticket, a few extra pounds on a drink or bite won’t break the bank.

The worst thing you could do is ‘bring your own..’. Snacks sold in the theatre are often chosen with great care, so as to create the least noise. Munching on crisps from a crinkly bag is a sure-fire way to get your fellow audience members’ knickers in a twist.

Children

Those without sprogs of their own, I find, are much less tolerant of young people’s behaviour in any public space – not just at the theatre. That said, some shows are completely inappropriate for younger audiences. Not just because the content might be rated, or even might go over their head. Children aren’t well known for their ability to sit still and stay focussed for huge lengths of time – and a 2 and a half hour show isn’t the place to test them.

I could wax lyrical on the subject of children at the theatre, but in short, if you’re not 100% certain that they won’t be a nuisance, arrange for a baby-sitter for the evening or the fail-safe option of a “sleepover at granny and grampa’s”.

Leaving before the end

Let’s face it. There will always be a time when a show fails to live up to expectations. The question now is – do you leave before the end? The interval duck-out is the easiest and most considerate option for all. But if you’ve found yourself at this juncture mid-performance, then you may leave under the following conditions only, with no exceptions: you are sitting in an aisle seat, near the back, and are not laden with much luggage. If your situation doesn’t fit the bill, then sorry – it’ll just be another hour-or-so till freedom!

Let us know if there are any other points of theatre etiquette that deserve a mention.