My ideal format for a play is 7:30pm start, an interval at about 8:30pm or 8:45pm then a 9:30pm finish. I like an interval ice cream or else I would drop the interval altogether. Increasingly plays seem to be getting longer and longer in London theatres. This is perhaps acceptable on a Friday or Saturday but with an awareness that attendees book weeks, perhaps months in advance is it time to ban any play that doesn’t end by 10:30.
At the Almeida and later a transfer at the Trafalgar Studios Robert Icke’s The Oresteia ran for a staggering 3 hours and 40 minutes, including intervals. My classicist friend was prepared, the play started at 7pm and there were strict interval times with on stage countdown. When I booked for Icke’s Uncle Vanya at the Almeida I should have been prepared for a long play but gasped in horror at its 3 hours and 20 minutes running time with three 10 minute intervals.
It started at 7:30pm; this is unacceptable for a play over 3 hours. No producer should assume its audience is local, with its great transport links London theatre belongs as much to Home Counties as well as locals and tourists staying in hotels. It doesn’t exactly lead to relaxing, happy experience; people rush for trains, people look on with envy at those rushing for trains, people yawn dramatically and look at their watch and crucially people push down their rivals to get to the toilet or bar as soon as that interval darkness looms!
If this was a cinema people would have little ground to complain; final running time is usually known as soon as it gets the certificate but theatre isn’t like that. For many of us in the audience we booked the tickets months ago and even for those that booked last minute for a preview are going in blind. The website still says ‘Running time: TBC’ and you have to hope it will be finished by 9:30, maybe 9:45 at a push.
Various plays in 2016 have been guilty of being over 3 hours; The Master Builder (Matthew Warchus), The Caretaker (Matthew Warchus again), The Crucible (Yael Farber) all at the Old Vic and more recently Man and Superman (Simon Godwin, who also did the very long Strange Interlude) and Les Blancs (Yael Farber again) at National Theatre. I hope I won’t have to avoid certain directors, casts and stories I enjoy because the running time with affect me getting home at a sensible hour but I feel theatres need to simply liaise with their directors and if a play is going to be over 3 and half hours contact all ticket holders and let them know of a 7pm start.
It feels like there is no consideration for an audience, which has booked so early because they are avoiding high costs or just want a guaranteed seat. If theatre is going to encourage new crowds really long plays, which could be cut down in some cases, are not the way forward.