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Tricycling in Politics

August 13, 2014

The news that the Tricycle Theatre has caused promoters to cancel a film festival by first requesting to view the films, then questioning how it is funded, ‘got’ to me this week. What does it mean? Should I “de-list” the venue? Protest? Applaud it? Throw up?

The “pre-viewing” request was obviously ridiculous, but to go on to the funding thing… whatever their motive… is particularly odd, isn’t it… I mean, as in really strangely deluded thinking…

My reasoning is that in this day and age, you can NEVER be sure where the money is coming from for anything at all. Where something is made (labelling isn’t quite what consumers think it is), how it is produced, who funds it and owns the factory and what else they do. You just can never know.

I know it sounds harsh, but I know darn well that I will, totally inadvertently, have bought something at some time that was produced by a child or underpaid resident of a state that abuse its nationals.

Out there is a miner dying because I want a new computer built with rare toxic ores that he dug up without having protective clothing available, that his wife washed with her bare hands, taking the toxins into her body, and that his 10 year old son and daughter stacked when they should have been in school rather than absorbing poison. And then repeated in reverse when my old machine was sent back to their country for re-cycling. If you are using a computer to read this, sorry, but it could have been you too…

There’s fantastic hotels in London owned by ruling elites of nations who think gender and religious discrimination is fine. Happy theme parks with investment from oppressive regimes. Cars produced by manufacturers that make weapons parts and perhaps once engineered components for gas chambers. Drug companies who produce wonderful medicines but won’t offer them cheap to those who really need them but can’t afford them.

I’m probably exaggerating (I hope to the highest that I am), but… like I said, it’s a global economy and someone, somewhere is leading a miserable life so that mine can be unbelievably rich and comfortable in a way they wouldn’t even dream of because they don’t even know it exists. On the other hand, they have work and so are not in danger of starving to death while they do… but it’s flippant to say that’s not a bad trade-off, isn’t it.

Yes, sanctions can sometimes work – largely where a country can at least feed itself and the elite are the ones to suffer. But all I am saying is that to identify “sources of income” as a reason to react may be a tad simplistic…

oh, and just out of interest…

I bet much of the I.T. the Tricycle use was developed by programmers whose education and training were funded by the particular government the theatre is trying to make a statement about. Should probably go back to good old paper tickets and sliding light-boards for the duration, if they feel that way about how things are funded, perhaps…

The problem is that entrenching positions and closing dialogue won’t solve anything – that’s what gets the world into these situations; all sides must keep talking. Privately, I’ve resolved that I’ll think twice about going there in the future… no full boycott because, as I said, dialogue is the only way to solve anything – but just, well, “is my visit REALLY necessary.” Shame, as “Handbagged” was one of the funniest shows I’ve seen this year.

But seriously, if a theatre is becoming politically self-censoring, rather than using the stage for the correct purpose – to explore issues through drama – then where does it end? Where does it all end?

EDIT: Since this entry was published, on 15th August 2014, common sense prevailed and the venue rescinded the condition. Why they thought it was a good idea in the first place… still, it gave me a blog entry…

I’m taking a blogging break for a couple of weeks. Thanks for reading, and see you all on 3rd September. Have a good summer.

Subscription Seasons

August 6, 2014

In the 1980s, the owners of the Old Vic, the Mirvishes, attempted to bring their Canadian business model to London and sell a whole season of tickets – a seat at each of 4 shows, to the public. It didn’t work then… and when the Spacey regime tried it again at the Old Vic in March 2014, it didn’t work either.

I wonder why? It seems to work for opera – and it’s the only way to be in with a chance of seats (not prom places) at the “Last Night Of The Proms” each summer.

So why not for theatre audiences in the West End?

I guess partly because a good proportion of West End visitors are tourists, and won’t be sticking around for the whole season.

For locals, I think there’s so much choice that many don’t wish to be tied down. Opera and Classical music are a fairly homogenous art form. Theatre is so varied that there’s always something new and interesting, so you have to keep your dates open.

I’ve also noticed that Londoners don’t book that close or that far ahead. Busy lives, so around 3 weeks to 3 months seems to be the norm – so far as I can see. To commit to so many dates up to a year ahead… maybe not.

Of course, the fact is that regulars usually have a good sense of what will discount, and that too makes a difference.

Finally, for the latest Old Vic attempt, I was also slightly baffled. Had I known that I could have booked “Clarence Darrow” and “Electra” despite already having seen “Other Desert Cities,” I’d have been on it like a shot. But I just didn’t get the message. And in the end, I was lucky and got tickets to Darrow because everyone else appeared as bewildered as I was.

In a way, I’d quite like someone to try again, to see what happens if the system is brought in at the start of the season, rather than after the first production. If there were great discounts and the advantage of priority for “hot tickets” it could just work – a really fun challenge for some marketing team, somewhere, perhaps…

Cracking the “Day Seat Line Decorum” problem.

July 30, 2014



As the picture above shows, I think I may have cracked it at last!

Imagine this sign done properly, hanging just under the theatre canopy.

And with a CCTV camera angled to capture the lucky 10 in order of arrival.

As the sign says – the footage will be checked to prove the order of arrival… and serves the duel purpose of confirming identity when tickets are issued just before the show (as most are, to prevent them being sold on during the day).

A big advert for the show that “day seats” are available, no way for anyone to “hold places” for anyone else, nor “queue-jump” – can’t even “sell on” your place as the whole thing is on video…

…and linked to an online webcam, it’d be easy to see if it’s even worth turning up that early to begin with.

Nothing to add this time, as a picture paints a thousand words for a change, I think!

Is “Audience Development” Bunkum?

July 23, 2014

After reading a blog article on “”  from someone who makes a living studying it, I’m rapidly heading to that conclusion. The author basically concluded that subsided theatres get 46% of audiences who are very regular theatregoers. Commercial theatres around 13% – their audiences go once or twice at year, compared to 6 or more in the subsidised sector. Conclusion: everybody needs to “reach out” more, of course.

It’s an old idea, and now I’ve thought about it, I’ve finally seen the flaw.

At the end of my street, some wasteland has been turned into a football ground – using my council tax money, i.e. “public subsidy.”

I got a leaflet inviting me along to a “fun day” and to see a match.

Did I go? Of course not.

Why? I can’t think of anything (except if a close relative were playing) that would get me to watch a football match. Very cheap or even free tickets? Post-match talk? Celebrity on the pitch? A specially arranged game for newcomers? Nope.

As you’ve worked out, exchange “football” for “theatre” in the above, and it boils down to the same thing.

If someone isn’t interested in something, they are never going to go any further.

In other words, why bother developing audiences?

30 years ago, I was told that theatre audiences were white-skinned, grey haired and middle class.  They were. They still are… but it is a different lot of white-skinned, grey haired and middle class people. Those I’d first gone to the theatre with are now of course in that great auditorium in the sky.

Point is, people are still going if they want to go, and I’d argue it’s better to spend money on making them comfortable than trying to catch the interest of the disinterested.

Put another way, as the Lloyd Webber TV casting shows of 2006 onwards proved, and as Michael McIntyre and every other arena-filler confirm: if anyone wants to see something live, they’ll go. It’s OK. You just have to put something on that people want to see.

For the rest, those who are already reached, I’d say it’s far better not to put them off the purchase in the first place. Booking fees, dynamic pricing making a “last moment” decision too expensive to contemplate, expensive parking and drinks etc, etc, that alienate your regulars… those are the areas to think about if you want to generate audiences. Tidy the garden first, before you buy the field next door, to me, is the answer.

Mr Burns. Almeida Theatre.

July 16, 2014

(Seen at the afternoon performance on 12th July 2014).

A few months ago, I amazed a tweenager when I informed him that Shakespeare probably didn’t write the exact text we know today. What we know is based on actors’ memories, years after the plays were performed. Nothing was actually recorded at the time, so the best we can do is hope we got some of it right.

“Mr Burns” is all about the concept of presenting a memory, and its distortion over time. Sadly, it failed to convince me – through a total failure of logic. Sure, the setting may be “post electric,” when America has suffered a disaster which turns off the current and leaves survivors keeping morale up by recounting “The Simpsons” episodes (an effective and morbid contrast with written lists they all carry of loved ones whose whereabouts is lost; a clumsy device from author Anne Washburn, but you can let it go as it does work).

Anyway, 7 years and a 20 minute interval later, the same survivors are scratching a living performing those same remembered episodes – in bitter competition with other companies who are better resourced and who can pay more to other survivors who remember lines.

And there come the logic failures which fatally flaw the piece. First, we are asked to allow that in 7 years, no progress has been made to restore power – despite no indicator that infrastructure has been destroyed (the company are holed up in a rather nice studio in act two).

Second, in act one, the company hints at nuclear power plants exploding due to lack of maintenance… if that happened, they’d all be dead of either radiation poisoning or “total nuclear winter.”

Therefore, if humans had survived, so would “The Simpsons” episodes they struggle to recall; in both book and DVD form. The latter would quite easily be playable even on battery operated devices (batteries being something the author makes a point of saying are available).

The author actually admits defeat at this point, by SPOILER ALERT wiping out the cast in a terrorist attack. SPOILER ENDS.

That leaves act three. 75 years on, “The Simpsons” and religion have melded into a religious / theatrical experience (aren’t they all – I can’t have been the only one thinking “Oh God” at this point) which seems endless and undoes what might have been a fairly interesting tale up until then. We are left with a bunch of unknowns performing some very strange fusion indeed Interminable.

Quite simply, a play about memory in a time where everything is recorded, is built-in irrelevant. “The Simpsons” exists in various media for all time. Hence I simply couldn’t discern any intelligent developments in the writing, other than the old “if we don’t watch ourselves we’ll be extinct by some conveniently round-number year in the future” (and yes, even I’m old enough to remember when those dates were the future but are now way in the past. So much for all that guff).

Oddly, the first two acts at least are watchable. Tom Scutt’s designs are intelligent, Philip Gladwell a clever lighting designer allowing act 1 to be done by a single (gas) campfire’s light. Robert Icke does the directing job he is paid for, getting this thing on stage with a credible cast of survivors who seem almost real – Demetri Goritsas, Justine Mitchell and Michael Shaeffer in particular.

The idea itself – that popular culture will transcend human disaster – is a decent take on the old “apocalypse” saw. But the clumsiness of thinking, the third act and wasted opportunity of a satisfactory conclusion just left me feeling that this was almost, but not quite, a total waste of talent in every all round, alas.

Forbidden Broadway: Menier Chocolate Factory.

July 9, 2014

(seen at the afternoon performance on 5th July 2014).


I’ve been an avid collector of the CDs (and even vinyl) from this show for decades, but it’s only now that I’ve actually seen the show “live.” And yes, I’m glad I have.

The real joy for me was understanding how they stage the numbers I’m so familiar with on disc. Sure, the sleeve photos are a pretty good indicator, but now I really “get” what it’s all about.

The show relies to a great extent on costumes. That’s obviously the easiest way to deal with so many sequences that would otherwise be unstagable. A few props, mostly cardboard boxes and handheld items like canes and musical instruments are all that is required…

… well, that an excellent pianist and a quartet of the most talented musical comedy actors they can find. Sophie-Louise Dann could be mistaken for Elaine Paige any time, or anyone else she cares to impersonate. You’ll never see Anna-Jane Casey and Liza Minelli in the same room together either. Ben Lewis and Joseph Prouse (Damian Humbley not being Merman, apparently) also managed to hoist everyone from Hugh Jackman to Mandy Patinkin on their own petards too.

Highlights for me were the “Matilda,” “Once” and “Spamalot” sequences, but hilarious arrows flew in all directions throughout. I did object (unintentionally vocally, sorry) to a sick Apollo Theatre reference – far, far too soon, I felt; and there was a high proportion of old material in the show. Maybe a little naughty to present as fresh an old “Pajama Game” sequence, and I could swear the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” thing has appeared somewhere earlier too, albeit in slightly different form.

This is the show for musical theatre fans. No, not fans, “obsessives.” You do need to have seen every show parodied, and know your Broadway Theatre stars past and present to really get much from the show. There is a good deal for the more casual musical theatre fan, but those who get why ‘triple-threat tots’ are funny have most to gain.

It’s mostly very funny, always exceptionally well done. Well worth seeing. At least “Once” (provided you are not in that show, of course…).

Goodbye, Igor.

July 2, 2014

An old friend and work colleague was laid to rest last Wednesday, and I’m going to miss him.

Igor joined me in 2005, and was my tireless assistant until he retired in February 2011. During that time he did much of the work required to create the text of my book, and bravely fought a debilitating virus in the winter of 2007, which eventually lead to a transplant in 2009. He still helped out when I needed an extra hand, right up until last Tuesday,

And I’m going to miss him.

Still, 9 years is outstanding going for a computer, I guess.

Yes, Igor was the first major investment I made in Theatremonkey since I started the site in 2000. It finally became financially viable and technology caught up enough that I was able to hand back to my parents the “Windows 98” (“Stained Glass Windows” now) machine that I’d borrowed from them for several years, and get something good.

Trying to find a machine was a nightmare back then. The one I’d borrowed had been put together by a wonderful man, Don, in those early times when branded machines were pretty hopelessly unreliable and those “in the know” got folk like Don to set them up properly with something better. Don, sadly, was too unwell to do the honours for a second time, so I was stuck.

I actually tried – and I’m going to name them – Dell, first. That idea fell at the first fence when I put a simple question by phone (their website didn’t cover it) to them about maintenance and engineer help plans when things go wrong. Both are vital for a small business reliant on a single machine, and wonderfully provided by Don at the time for my current machine…

Questioning Dell, I found myself passed around 4 separate offices… none of whom actually had enough English to understand the question, let alone come up with an answer.

Later, I found out that a massive company I deal with were treated little better, and that “Dell Hell” really existed. If they do that to a PLC, what hope for me? Oh, and later I found out also that someone I knew in school had an executive job at the firm… and suddenly it all made sense. Say no more…

Anyway, at a loss, and knowing I didn’t need that other purveyor of the “here’s an expensive box, now go away” services, that sounds like a World Policeman (you know who), but that I needed something else, on impulse I walked into a local shop. As the credits in my book say, the rest is history. Steve meets Victor, Victor helps me design and then create Igor. Custom-made to do exactly what I needed to do, and (as a later demonstration proved) faster than a Dell of identical – at least on the box – specification. Not paying a penny for what I don’t need or want, full value for what I do – and a local, personal help service from the team who actually built the machine when I need it.

Neither Victor or Igor ever let me down, not even when Igor got that almost fatal virus (naming no names, but I don’t touch that motorbike-brand name-alike anti-virus software any more), nor when his memory started to slip and a new motherboard was rushed to the surgery.

Sadly, it was Windows XP being retired that did Igor in. Victor’s workroom is full of XP owners equipment that recently discovered the joy of a “Cryptolock” virus which renders the machine useless, plus a hoard of other lovelies that do almost as much damage.

To render Igor fit would cost more than a 10 times faster “reconditioned” replacement unit… so Igor 2 is being configured as I type; and Mandy, who replaced Igor in 2011, does a great job (definitely female: much more sophisticated memory, more complex, more efficient, tells you clearly when you are wrong) but it won’t ever be quite the same of course. Still, life moves on, and better to let the old guy go than suffer a painful finality, isn’t it.

RIP Igor, 2005-2014. Thanks for the 2Mb RAM, 250Gb Hard Drive memory.


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