The casting seemed ideal. Martine McCutcheon, star of EastEnders and chart-topping pop singer, was picked to play Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady at the National Theatre. She would bring in young and new audiences to the musical's four-month run.
Today Miss McCutcheon is to appear in the last National performances before the acclaimed Trevor Nunn show transfers to the West End. But the past four months have been anything but ideal. Miss McCutcheon has been absent more times than she has been on stage. By yesterday she had played the part 63 times, her understudy Alexandra Jay 65 times, and her understudy's understudy Kerry Ellis five times.
Theatres are now being urged to offer audiences discounts when a star is off. Terri Paddock, editorial director of the website Whatsonstage.com, which surveys the views of theatre goers, said yesterday: "My Fair Lady, for whatever reasons, has been a prime example. It is not fair on the audience. They become rather cynical. Several on our website have offered bets that any illnesses among cast members will clear up in time for the press night in the West End."
At the National, Miss McCutcheon suffered a serious viral infection and has recovered from the worst effects, but she has rarely managed eight performances a week. A National Theatre spokeswoman said: "It has been extremely bad luck. But it must be remembered that this is an ensemble piece, and we are very proud of our understudies. It was never promoted as a star vehicle."Reuse content