I see a lot of theatre productions, obviously and whilst I still enjoy seeing new shows, new ideas and a creative piece that is genuinely exciting I am starting to feel apathetic to much of what I see; no longer seeing it as a piece of entertainment but questioning the ‘why’ more than the ‘how’.
I think there is a supply and demand problem. There is too much on and not enough people who want to see it. I recently found myself in a 400 seat theatre with maybe 20 people in it (despite offers on free ticket websites). Fringe shows find themselves, particularly in August, with large theatres to fill and no means of publicity. Social Media is limited in who it can bring in.
There isn’t this apathy towards the West End from audiences, even a poor selling show will manage to find an audience from somewhere because of its location and will usually have a budget to shake up marketing campaigns during the run; Consent’s marketing that saw it sell well at the Dorfman was shaken up for its West End run. The issue is that fringe is seen as not being ‘proper’ theatre, that is cheap and not much better than am dram. In some ways yes, many fringe productions you see will be badly paid because they are badly attended. Even a full house in a theatre like the Finborough doesn’t guarantee professional actors will be getting a professional wage.
Whilst there are productions that are genuinely exciting because of their interactivity such as immersive shows For King and Country, The Great Gatsby or Land of Nod or productions such as Nine Night at the National for providing their audience with a point of view rarely seen there are plenty of productions that fail to evoke an emotional response anymore.
I recently returned my ticket to Julie at the National Theatre; the word of mouth reviews hadn’t been great and crucially Vanessa Kirby was off, possibly planned and whilst I wish her understudy Francesca Knight all the best I returned my ticket. It didn’t help that even Kirby, an actress in her professional prime, no longer seemed interested in the role
If a professional actress in a sold-out play can’t muster up the energy then why should audiences?
I now question, when reviewing, not just production values but why a show has even been put on. It is an expensive and time-consuming endeavour and whilst I don’t expect passion from all involved I hope to get some understanding that goes beyond needing additional credits for their Spotlight or Mandy profile. When writing a new piece made me understand what drew everyone to it when reviving make me understand why now and not at another point in time.
It is easy to put the blame on actors but they are only as good as their source material, that includes writers and directors. I also appreciate that money and time are limited, I don’t need or expect coup de theatres or lavish costumes. You can elicit warmth and interest with no set or props but with so much competition, with so many fringe shows to see there needs to be something good about yours that makes me want to recommend it, to paying audiences, over all the small shows going on in London. This is no longer about entertainment but a deeper meaning behind why people create what they do and who they are creating it for.