David Lister: The Week in Arts

All change at the Old Vic - not for the better
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Tomorrow night at the Old Vic in London, there will be one of the most glamorous theatrical evenings of the year. A performance of 24 hour plays (playlets rehearsed and staged over the weekend) by leading young playwrights will feature stars such as Saffron Burrows, Rufus Sewell, Gina McKee and Damian Lewis. The night will be introduced on stage by Kevin Spacey himself. Tickets will cost up to £500, and profits will go towards the Old Vic's redevelopment fund. And there won't be a critic in sight.

Tomorrow night at the Old Vic in London, there will be one of the most glamorous theatrical evenings of the year. A performance of 24 hour plays (playlets rehearsed and staged over the weekend) by leading young playwrights will feature stars such as Saffron Burrows, Rufus Sewell, Gina McKee and Damian Lewis. The night will be introduced on stage by Kevin Spacey himself. Tickets will cost up to £500, and profits will go towards the Old Vic's redevelopment fund. And there won't be a critic in sight.

Theatre critics have been banned from the building tomorrow night. When I asked a spokesman why, he replied: "It is policy not to have critics in. The plays and performances are far too raw."

So raw that the Old Vic is charging £500 for the best seats. In Mr Spacey's home country, they are not quite so fearful. The 24 Hour Company has been putting 24 hour plays on in New York, where it happily showed off its wares to critics.

On its own, this is small beer. But odd things are happening at the Old Vic. And they leave a slightly strange taste in the mouth. Most importantly, Mr Spacey himself today leaves the cast of The Philadelphia Story for nearly two months to return to America to take a part in the new Superman film.

The reviews made much of Mr Spacey's performance, and advance bookings have brought in £1.2m as punters bought tickets to see him. Some were quoted in the press this week as being most disgruntled to discover that he won't be in the production.

The Old Vic responded: "What else could we have done - put a banner outside the theatre?"

Yes. That would be honest. That would be open. That would be fair. That is exactly what it should do. There should be a notice outside and inside the theatre and all telephone ticket buyers should be informed that the Hollywood star is no longer appearing in the production. Then ticket buyers could make the choice whether to see the show or not in the full knowledge that its most famous participant, an Oscar winner, was 3,000 miles away.

There's a new spirit about at the Old Vic, which is at odds not only with its distinguished history as the home of Laurence Olivier's National Theatre company, but also at odds with the spirit of theatre generally. Of course, a theatre management is entitled to bar critics from a fund-raising performance if it wishes. Of course, it is entitled to play down the fact a star is leaving a production, even when it knows full well that a percentage of ticket buyers has paid out purely to see that star.

There is much else it is entitled to do, and does. The veteran theatre director Alan Strachan says he no longer feels wholly comfortable in the place: "That atmosphere of casual but friendly welcome, which used to stamp the Old Vic's character, seems to have changed utterly. Front-of-house and bar staff are now all gussied up in sombre formal black, and seem to share a house-style manner of impersonal - not to say chilly - hauteur."

Well, theatres change, and some changes are necessary. The building is smarter; the glamorous atmosphere can be attractive. But some aspects of public performance should not change. Theatres should play fair with their audiences, and not allow them to buy tickets under a false assumption.

Holy smoke! It's Fatman

Poor Christian Bale. The Welsh-born star of Batman Begins has been taking his weight more seriously than any other actor on the planet. For his last role as an emaciated factory worker in The Machinist, he lost more than four and a half stone on a diet of chewing gum and cigarettes. Then he was given the role of Batman and decided that he needed to be chubbier as the Caped Crusader wasn't one of your skinny superheroes.

So Bale, above, went from 120 to 220lbs within five months - "by stuffing myself with anything I could get in my mouth. It was hell, to be honest".

His first day on set must have been hell, too. He said this week that the film's director Chris Nolan blurted out: "Holy fuck! You look like Grizzly Adams. What's going on?" Then the crew said: "What movie are we doin' here, Fatman?"

Some Hollywood stars would have been offended. But British actors can take a joke. So Christian, are you sure you can fit in the Fatmobile? That's not a cape - it's a tent. And when do you start working on Fatman Returns?

¿ The South Bank Centre is embroiled in a fraught dispute over the London Eye. Lord Hollick, the chairman of the South Bank Centre, wants to increase the rent for the popular attraction which is sited on land run by the arts venue. Actually, only one "leg" of the Eye happens to sit on the land in question. Nevertheless, the Eye might have to be dismantled and moved if it does not comply.

Meanwhile, life must go on, and Lord Hollick has an annual report to produce for the South Bank Centre. My sources inside the centre tell me that two separate covers have been photographed and printed. One shows the South Bank Centre with the London Eye majestically turning in the background. The other shows the South Bank Centre with an uninterrupted view behind it. The Eye has been airbrushed out of history.

Whichever one makes the cover of the annual report, the other one could fetch a few quid on eBay.

Comments