David Lister: When does an actor become a star?

Share
Related Topics

My esteemed colleague, the science editor of this paper, Steve Connor, has attracted opprobrium in the letters column for referring to the also esteemed Sir Michael Gambon, pictured, as "the Harry Potter actor". Ms Doraine Potts claimed she was "shocked" by this, adding: "For an actor with such a distinguished career in film, television and the theatre to be identified solely by his appearance in a popular children's movie is insulting not only to the actor himself, but also to your readers."

Well, the science editor's description of Gambon may not be rigorously scientific. Sir Michael does indeed have a career well beyond the Harry Potter films. But more people think of the wizard Albus Dumbledore when they see a picture of Michael Gambon, than think of Uncle Vanya or Lear or Falstaff or A View from the Bridge's Eddie Carbone or the dozens of other roles that Sir Michael has played on stage in a long and triumphant career.

When the day comes – a long way off I hope – that Dame Maggie Smith takes her final bow, I fully expect the press coverage to mention her Harry Potter cameos prominently. The same will be true of all the theatrical titans that have had cameos in the films. The reason is that theatre does not touch the public consciousness in the way that film does.

The perfect example of this came last year when a legend of the stage Sir Paul Scofield died on the same day as the TV actor Brian Wilde who appeared in Porridge and Last of the Summer Wine. In the press and on BBC news, Sir Paul received barely a mention compared to Mr Wilde. Perhaps he would have done if his 1967 Oscar triumph for A Man for All Seasons had been a little more recent.

Theatre simply does not have the same celebrity power as film or TV. I believe the two greatest stage performers of their generation are Simon Russell Beale and Clare Higgins. They both have great track records with the National Theatre and RSC and are mesmerising to watch. But because neither has done a great deal of film or TV, they are all but unknown outside the small percentage of the population that goes to the theatre regularly.

The theatre world must ask itself why its own stars fail to become stars in the wider firmament. It does seem to suggest that fewer people than it might like to think go to see great acting on stage, at least in straight plays. Musicals are another matter, its leading lights managing the crossover to stardom. But it's heartbreaking that the greatest actors of the day are relatively little known unless they take a day job in films, and will almost certainly be forgotten when they depart from the stage. Memory also plays a part in celebrity ranking. Michael Gambon did achieve national fame on television in Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective, but it was a long time ago. Harry Potter is ever with us, and that earlier small-screen success is a fading memory.

To touch the consciousness of the nation, reality TV ranks first, then a movie blockbuster, then film generally keeping company with prime-time television. Stage actors are about mid-table, just above novelists and ballet dancers, while poets are at the bottom alongside counter-tenors in celeb obscurity.

At least our letter writer can be grateful that Sir Michael Gambon never tried his luck on Strictly Come Dancing. That would have eclipsed even Harry Potter in giving him a celebrity handle and touching the national consciousness.

The Tate deserves a platform

Travelling on the Tube in the capital, I was struck how some of our national museums and art galleries get a merited plug on the station platforms, while others are neglected. At Charing Cross station one is advised on the platforms to alight for the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. At South Kensington one is reminded that there is a host of museums, with a special passageway to them.

But neither Tate Britain nor Tate Modern has gained any recognition on the platforms of surrounding stations. What pull do the directors of the National and National Portrait Galleries have with the chiefs of Transport for London that the estimable and usually rather powerful Sir Nicholas Serota at the Tate has not? Are the TfL bureaucrats registering some sort of protest against the eccentricities of the Turner Prize? I think Sir Nicholas should have a meeting with the London Mayor Boris Johnson to demand equal rights.

It won't get bums on seats

In writing last week about how subsidised national venues are also now charging booking fees, I thought I might have exhausted all the possibilities of arts venues squeezing money out of audiences. I was wrong.

I'm grateful to Independent reader Mrs E M Beazley from Erpingham in Norfolk, who has reminded me of the iniquitous new trend of West End theatre producers discovering something called "premier seats". What an amazing discovery. These are, in fact, just a bunch of seats in the middle of the stalls, which greedy managements have decided to call "premier" and whack up to £40 extra for the privilege of sitting in them. For Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, pictured, at the Palace Theatre they are £35 above the normal price, at £95. Mrs Beazley says: "I have been a West End theatregoer for over 45 years but am sickened by the greedy producers and the continued ripping-off of the poor paying public."

Congratulations to West End theatre owners. You have alienated one theatregoer in premier style.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Education Editor: This shocking abuse of teachers should be taken seriously

Richard Garner
Brand loyalty: businessmen Stuart Rose (pictured with David Cameron at the Conservative conference in 2010) was among the signatories  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?