Isn’t like normal laughter. It isn’t even the laughter of a comedy club. Well, not often, anyway.
Why DO we often laugh differently in a theatre – and I think many regular theatregoers will know what I mean. I mean that tight little laugh audiences do to let actors know that yes, we got the line, and were amused by it, so please thesp on.
Well, that’s the answer, isn’t it. Theatre can’t “pause” in the way a comedian who hits a punchline ‘out of the park’ can (I once saw the comic of all comics, Ken Dodd, pause for almost five minutes to allow us to recover enough so that he could deliver another three hours or so).
The reason is that an actor has to get on with the script or song or else things fall apart. Also, we don’t want to miss what’s coming next, so we have to adjust our laughter for the circumstance. Odd, isn’t it.
There is, of course, one exception. The “obscure” joke. Mostly heard during Shakespeare, but also in any play about theatre where half the audience are “in” on the joke and the rest are not. Then, you hear a little smugness in the laugh that says not only “yes, we got the line,” but also “we are more sophisticated and superior to anyone who isn’t laughing at the joke that isn’t funny but is there all the same, and we got it.”
For years, I’ve run an article (it’s in the book too) about those people… until I realised it’s something I’ve started to do myself! Am I getting old, or just seen enough now to care that I did get the gag and want to show it? Nope, have to admit, I may have been wrong… sometimes, in fact, quite often… Shakespeare can be really funny… who’d have thought? And yes, it really is OK to laugh. Just make it a theatre audience-type one, I think.
As both regular readers know, I’ve been running a little bit of a rear-guard action over “Viva Forever!”
This Spice Girls musical got a barrel of terrible reviews when it opened in December 2012, but when I saw it in January 2013 I thought it was actually modestly entertaining. Certainly it didn’t work particularly well as a musical – you can’t just abandon the story after the interval – but the young cast were infectiously enthusiastic, and as “bad” shows go, this one really was half decent.
What I am saying is that instead of celebrating it as a disaster, it should be congratulated for managing to keep going for as long as it has. A producer that has faith in her product (and very deep pockets to back it up) is to be commended. She tried to get the show back together, but it really had its reputation so badly trashed that there wasn’t a chance of a comeback. A less wealthy or generous producer would have closed the show within two weeks of those reviews, I think.
OK, if they had let folk like myself in to see it earlier it might have helped build a bit of “word of mouth,” but I hope I did a bit to send a few folk to see it. Certainly, I know my own ticket sales were pretty good, actually.
Anyway, if it is any consolation, it isn’t, by far, the worst show I’ve ever seen at the Piccadilly Theatre. That honour goes to “King.” A deeply boring show about Martin Luther King Junior, and an LP that gathers dust in my collection after only a single playing.
If I had to nominate a runner up, it would be “Moby Dick.” A rare Cameron Mackintosh failure, it has cult status now. Back then, I’m afraid I could barely hear a word of it, as the sound design was so awful… but the story didn’t make sense and the music was forgettable anyway. The CD is actually better than the show, I’d say.
Finally, who can forget “Which Witch.” Oh my… It doesn’t make the two worst shows I’ve seen at that theatre for a simple reason… the memory of devils abseiling off the upper circle to s**g the nymphs on stage (note: all celestial encounters are hetero) to close act one has to be the weirdest curtain I’ve ever seen. The CD is even stranger, without the strange visuals to make sense of what we are seeing.
So, Goodbye, My Friends, and I hope the cast and crew all find new jobs very soon – they deserve them.
Sooner or later, every a**hole gets one… or so the joke runs. Anyway, I’ve never won an award, so nothing to worry about there.
Still, as the whole city failed to notice, last Sunday the Olivier Awards – the highlight of the West End theatre year – took place.
What interested me was that “Top Hat” – winner of “Best Musical,” “Best Choreography” and “Best Costumes” (all totally correct choices in my view) got no coverage at all.
Normally, the “big musical” winner gets the most. This time, it was all “Dog In The Night Time” and Helen Mirren. OK, they deserve the coverage they got of course, but how odd that the best dance musical since “Cats” didn’t warrant so much as a photograph in the paper the next day. Mind you, having watched the TV coverage, most awards didn’t get any time either – one “they won” caption and perhaps a line of the speech and off…
Looking at the rest of the winners, I couldn’t find much to gripe about. I’d have given Summer Strallen “Best in Musical” over Imelda Staunton, but that’s partly personal bias and I can well see why Staunton edged it artistically, even if I’d have given it to the dancer rather than the singer.
Big cheer for Ms Zimmerman, the lady who, with a single glance, tells the entire story of “A Chorus Line” in a split second at the end. Shame there was no nod for Ms Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, but she’s still a star to watch anyway.
Great choice of special award for Michael Frayn too. His “Benefactors” will always be dear to me as the first commercial West End play I ever saw, and the fact he has decided to hang up his quill is rather sad, but understandable. Happy retirement.
Oh, and a quick mention before I go to Mr Evans “chocolate award” stunt. Quite funny.
So, for next year, hope for many awards for “Once” and also some songs from current shows in the West End, rather than just the “classics.” Otherwise, good to see them back on mainstream TV again. Thank goodness I set my recorder.
Nothing to do with North Korea, but as devastating to the West End as his “social care” plans, really. In that both concepts result in damaging those they intend to benefit.
Obviously, I’m not comparing what happens over there with a night on the town in London, I’m just trying to point out the odd “unintended consequence” at it were.
So, according to a recent article in “The Stage” newspaper, the producer of “The Audience” admits that he put the remaining “premium” seats up to £125 on the grounds that if the touts were getting it, he may as well have it. You have to admit a certain logic.
First off, though, you can’t then claim any moral high-ground if that’s your attitude. Why bother attempting to do something to end touting, if a producer can make more cash out of it by imitating their activities? That’s a terrible long-term argument, I think, that could devastate the flow of tickets to legitimate customers in the future.
Second, it actually screams “disaster.” If the public ‘catch on’ that a popular show raises the price of all remaining seats to “premium,” they know that buying them will result in the “ticket tout experience” of paying too much for a lousy seat.
Going further, had these now so-called “premium” seats been left at a more reasonable price, they may have been sold already. A chance to fill seats with people who will become the best possible advert for a show by talking about it. An old argument, amplified, I fancy.
Third, it changed my own buying habit. Would I have spent £59.50, the original top price, on a stalls seat if there was one. I’d have considered it for sure – and may well have been tempted up a bit from what I did pay.
Would I pay £125? No chance. For a kick off, I just couldn’t afford it. Second, I couldn’t justify it. That’s practically a month’s grocery bill, with a bit left over for the leccy, depending on the ‘dented can’ bargains available!
Interestingly, at the time of writing this, there’s still “premium” seats left for the day I’m going. Would there have been, had the producer been reasonable… interesting question, isn’t it…
You really MUST read this.
Following on from my last post, an Austrian friend was complaining to me about Austrian theatre audiences. He reports that they “giggle when nothing is funny, they talk when everything is silent and they go crazy when someone they know, went onstage!”
He also sent me a link to the Austrian version of “Legally Blonde” (inexplicably dubbed “Naturally Blonde” – as he remarked, sounding like a hair dye – over there). Quite honestly, from that, you can’t blame some of the behaviour as it bore no resemblance to the pink champagne of the London hit.
Anyway, it made me fairly glad about London audiences. Yes, they are sometimes a pain (as discussed last week, why anyone needs to check a phone every 5 minutes is beyond me, unless they are a doctor on call / waiting for a transplant) but in general they do laugh when they are supposed to and stay quiet most of the time.
Even the crazy fans at “Book of Mormon” treat it with cathedral reverence rather than miss a moment. Mind, the sight of an over-excited fan almost running over an usher to be first through the door (half an hour before the show started) is one I won’t forget in a while.
I also actually felt sorry for one young woman sitting next to me at “The Shed” last weekend. No, not because she had to sit next to me (so stop sniggering). I mean, because she had a “post-nasal cough” that she was desperately (and successfully) trying to keep under control during the first half. During the interval, she bought a drink and arrived back with it in a plastic cup. Finishing it before the play re-started, about 15 minutes into the second half, she very quietly reached down and took out a bottle of water she had brought with her in her bag. Quietly, she poured it into the plastic glass.
Normally, I’d have been slightly irritated at the noise and fact somebody needed to drink anything during a performance, but this time I knew she was really trying to do her best. Thus I felt really sorry for her when the man in front (causing himself more distraction than the poor woman ever had to him) turned and gave her a “Paddington Bear Stare” out of all proportion.
I do admit I enjoy seeing a show within a large invited group of other “theatre people” who know how to behave… BUT… it can get a bit sterile. By that, I mean that we usually hold the show to a far higher standard and are less likely to be impressed – simply because we see so much. It’s quite noticeable that at a “regular” performance the reactions really are more enthusiastic… just, thankfully, not yet Austrian…
Yes, it’s rare, but sometimes even I’m surprised at things I encounter.
During this week, there were a few… First, the clown sitting in row… no, I won’t name and shame him… but, dipstick, if your phone rings once in the first half and you mute it… WHY THE BLAZES DON’T YOU SWITCH IT OFF FOR THE REST OF THE NIGHT, RATHER THAN HAVE IT GO OFF AGAIN DURING THE SECOND???!!!
Next up, since when does anyone need to get REALLY sozzled to enjoy a West End show? One woman I observed required around 3 glasses – just to get her through the first half. I’m amazed she could see the mobile phone she was disrupting everyone around her with (yes, we can all see the light in a dark theatre, you drunken idiot).
Moving on, why fork out over £60 for a ticket then depart for the loo during the climax of the show? OK, nature can occasionally call unexpectedly, but if you know you have a problem, why not buy a seat right next to the exit? House managers actually understand that people sometimes have problems when they arrive and will often do everything in their power to make you comfortable.
It would be really bitchy to mention somebody wearing a leather mini-skirt when they were way too old for such a fashion statement (more like confession beaten out of them by the Fashion Police), so I won’t do that, as it isn’t fair. It did brighten up the interval, though, providing something to giggle over.
To finish on two “up” notes, though: I’ve seen an audience give a standing ovation simply from the pure joy of what they’ve watched, rather than because they think (in a rather Broadway way) that it’s expected. And I’ve seen a cast equally spontaneously reciprocate by applauding them for being such a great audience – Mr and Ms BeanBrains excepted of course.
Oh, and I managed to find a date to see “The Audience” where there were a) tickets available, b) I could make it and c) public transport was running from my area.
And on that note, I’m off on a break for a couple of weeks, back when I’ve figured out a legal way of disarming both phones and alcoholic drinks within 100 yards of every auditorium in London.