David Lister: To dream, perchance to get a refund

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The Independent Online

Alas poor Tennant. Emergency back surgery has meant that David Tennant has missed his opening performances as Hamlet for the London season, and, sadly, is unlikely to return for most, if not all, of the run.

But, alas poor ticket-buyers too. The critics were rightly praising understudy Ed Bennett's performance, but as someone who saw Tennant perform the role in Stratford-upon-Avon, I know that it was a tour de force, and that London audiences are missing out. It's always difficult for theatre companies to know what to do about refunds when a star drops out. Michael Boyd, head of the Royal Shakespeare Company, said that he would not be postponing the press night until Tennant returned as the RSC is an "ensemble company", and added that "the RSC and Delfont Mackintosh Theatres won't be issuing refunds because the Company has a fully rehearsed understudy policy and performances will continue as scheduled".

The first part of that statement is a breathtaking disregard of recent RSC history. It is only a matter of months since the press night of King Lear was postponed as Frances Barber playing Goneril had an injury. Most Shakespearean scholars will agree that Goneril is a slightly less important role than Hamlet.

But it is the second part of Michael Boyd's statement that concerns me more. In this production, perhaps more than any other anywhere in recent years, it was the prince rather than the play that was the thing. Tennant's appeal, especially to the young, because of his role as Doctor Who on TV, was a tremendous spur for ticket sales, which sold out within hours. It is, of course, possible that there are Shakespeare devotees who rubbed their hands and said: "Fantastic, the RSC is staging Hamlet. I must get on to eBay and get a ticket, whatever the cost."

But I suspect that it was not the ensemble company that spurred the stampede for tickets. And to judge from what some bitterly disappointed punters told the press this week, it was the lack of Tennant that they, particularly the younger theatregoers, found highly upsetting.

The views of these young theatregoers are particularly important because, let us remember, it was part of the RSC's strategy in casting Tennant to bring in a new, young audience to Shakespeare – a strategy that worked marvellously. It's not a fault of the RSC that Tennant is now unable to perform, but I can sympathise with theatregoers who feel a little cheated.

The RSC cannot have it both ways. It gained enormous publicity and kudos from the casting of David Tennant. It cannot simply choose to be an ensemble company when it suits. The RSC needs this new, young audience that it attracted via Tennant. The best way to lose them for good is to allow them to feel cheated. The best way to keep them on side is to do the morally correct thing. Assure them that they will still enjoy this great production, for it is great, but if they really want a refund, then they should be able to get their money back.

Two fat ladies sing

The Royal Opera's production of Engelbert Humperdinck's Hänsel and Gretel opened this week and was hugely enjoyable. Astonishingly, it was the first time the Royal Opera had put it on since 1937, a rather bizarre oversight. But perhaps that has been at the insistence of generations of sopranos. For what I particularly liked about this production was that the directors had two thin and attractive female singers, Angelika Kirschlager and Diana Damrau, pictured, playing the title roles, and somewhat sadistically have insisted on fattening them up. In a central scene from the production, the two ladies have to eat on stage every night a miniature gingerbread house made up of cakes and pastries.

I went backstage to congratulate both singers after the performance and saw them running down the corridors, presumably to lose the calories.

A little bad feeling goes a long way

Oh, how I love a press release I received this week on behalf of Jerry Dammers of that great band the Specials, who are now reforming. The statement informs us: "Jerry Dammers was the founder, main songwriter and driving force of the Specials. He recruited every member individually, and the musical and style direction were guided by him. He designed the 2 Tone logo and formed the 2 Tone record label."

You get the gist. The statement goes on to say that Jerry "has a duty to inform anybody who may be interested of the true situation, which is that he was not invited to take part in this proposed tour, or even told about it". Ouch! And the statement then goes on and on and on for a thousand words and more about the bad feeling between the Specials' driving force and other members of the band.

And I love it. I love it because this is true rock'n'roll. Amid all the hype about bands re-forming, one can forget the reason they usually broke up in the first place. They didn't like each other.