Emma Alcock’s ‘Interview With A Theatre Critic’ questionnaire arrived. Emma is a journalism student at Staffordshire University. I wish her well. Bloody student. I remember how helpful Mark Romano, who directed loads of Madonna’s music vids, had been to me when I was struggling to write my dissertation – ie, not at all, despite dozens of transatlantic phone calls. So I filled it in. I feel ‘blogged-out’ at the moment. So, with your agreement, I shall post that here instead. Who am I talking to????
1 Why do you think musicals are so popular with the British public?
People like tapping their feet. They like entertainment that they don’t have to think too much about. And blockbuster musicals are just that. The British public are, sadly, quite unambitious in their leisure pursuits. Rather than watch something radical, they would prefer to be herded, sheep-like, into The Lion King or We Will Rock You. They think they’ve had a good time if they do that. And they can tell all their friends in an attempt to ‘impress’.
2 Are you a fan of musicals? Have you a favourite?
I strongly dislike what musicals have become (see answer to question 1). There is no originality these days. But, having said all that, I don’t dislike musicals per se. My favourite musical would be the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s version of Singin’ In The Rain, which was a wonderful evening. Sorry, can’t remember when it was (five years ago, perhaps). Stuff like Stomp, that’s more like the night out I’d enjoy. And a piece called Cooking, set in a Chinese restaurant, that I saw in Edinburgh four years ago was damn good.
3 What do you think of new musicals such as Jerry Springer the Opera?
I’ve not seen it, much to my shame. But I feel that I could get on with it, because, from what I understand, it is more about the real world than some piece of crap by Ben Elton or a revival of South Pacific ever could be. More of Jerry Springer, less of the other stuff, and then, perhaps, the musical will survive.
4 Are there any new musicals you know of from America and Europe that you have got excited about?
I’m very world-weary. Nothing much excites me. I don’t think we should import shows. We should head to Europe and America and watch them in situ. Importing shows is just lazy.
5 How do musicals differ from broadway to the West end?
I don’t think they do. Musical is musical is musical. I think the audience might be different. I would suggest that a Broadway audience is more discerning and has bigger bulls**t detectors than its West End counterpart.
6 Do you think that ticket prices are too high?
Yes. Theatre is totally inaccessible to people earning an average wage due to prohibitive ticket prices. But staging a musical is expensive. Running a venue is expensive. So what can you do? There’s no easy answer and I can’t think of one.
7 Why do you think musicals such as Chicago and Les Miserables have been around so long?
Word of mouth. I might have to eat my own words here, because there’s obviously a broad appeal with these types of show. And x1000s of people can’t be wrong. Or can they? Chicago and Les Miserables are more to do with tourism than theatre, aren’t they? They endure because people want to go somewhere and do ‘something’. I think the whole Les Miserables/Miss Saigon/Martin Guerre triptych and lots of other tosh besides should be hurled in a dustbin. Think of something new!
8 Why do you think big celebrities are increasingly becoming involved in them for instance Amanda Holden in Thoroughly Modern Millie?
It sells tickets, and percentages have to be high for venues to survive. Writers, directors, plays even, are not a draw at all, apparently. Someone has decided that we need a Nicole Kidman to encourage us to see The Blue Room, because we’re too stupid to work out that it’s a great play. And we’re in the age of celebrity. But, again, it’s very, very, very lazy. 1x big celebrity does all the work for the marketing department.
9 What made you decide to become a theatre critic?
Fate. Seriously. I didn’t decide. I just woke up one morning and realised I was. I’m actually more interested in pursuing my career as a playwright. But I’m just interested in and fascinated by the theatre and, despite all the cynical words I have written about musicals, I love it. It’s live, it’s real, it could go wrong at any moment and there’s nothing quite like sitting in the dark and watching another world come to life right in front of your eyes.
10 Whats the best thing about your job?
Free entry to shows. The odd free drink. An occasional buffet. Kudos. Getting to meet and talk to some really interesting people. Realising that actors, directors and writers are the most fragile people in the world. Getting to fill in questionnaires 🙂
11. Whats the worst thing about your job?
Travel. Filing copy overnight. Having to talk to PRs who are useless, tell you that they can sort everything out for you and then forget to leave you any tickets at the box office.
(Disclaimer: The answer to Q11 does not refer to ****** at the **** ******* *****)