David Lister: Previews are not so precious

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The Independent Online

Comment is free, but in the case of an Andrew Lloyd Webber show it can prove very expensive. A Lloyd Webber hit has every chance of becoming an international franchise. Playing on several continents for years, it will make a fortune – as The Phantom of the Opera, Cats and Evita have proved spectacularly.

So it is no wonder that Lord Lloyd Webber was infuriated when bloggers posted some negative musings about preview performances of the Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies - several gave it the unfortunately catchy nickname "Paint Never Dries" – and when national newspapers reported those comments. Love Never Dies only had its official first night yesterday, and the convention is that newspapers do not publish reviews of preview performances, no matter what source they come from.

But Lord Lloyd Webber has to face two inconvenient facts. First, what bloggers post on the internet has become part of the news agenda. Word of mouth is crucially important in theatre, and blogging is just the latest form of word of mouth.

Second, the purpose of a preview is that the show is still being "worked on", refined and often changed in the weeks leading up to the first night proper. For that reason, producers have in the past had their own "convention"– the convention that tickets for previews are sold to the public at reduced prices.

This little convention seems increasingly to be disregarded. Though a show is officially not fully ready, audiences are charged the full price. They were recently for Sister Act in the West End. They were indeed for Love Never Dies. If tickets are full price, then the show cannot be said to be a preview. In the age of blogging and the age of disappearing discounted preview tickets, is the preview an outdated concept? Opera and ballet manage to get it right on the first night without previews.

If reduced prices are not offered, then the refining of a show must be done in the rehearsals, with the first performance of a production being the official first night. Then audiences, producers, critics, bloggers and illustrious composers will all know where they stand.