David Lister: You should get out more, Dr Miller. You might enjoy it...

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The learned doctor really doesn't learn. The last time he criticised "celebrity casting", he picked on "that man from Dr Who" playing Hamlet on stage in 2008. In fact David Tennant, the object of his ire, was a classically trained Royal Shakespeare Company actor. After the brickbats aimed at him for that faux pas, you might have thought that Dr Miller would be more careful.

But he's at it again, claiming that celebrity casting is one of the factors that has kept his away from the theatre. Well, in his absence, West End theatre has actually been doing rather well, with last year one of the best years on record. And, while the argument of celebrity casting is worth examining, a look at the names in the biggest successes show that the argument is flawed.

Take the riveting revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons in the West End. The two leads, David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker, certainly have TV form; but they were well-known stage actors before finding TV fame. So is that celebrity casting? Discuss. Equally the full houses at the National Theatre, Donmar and other publicly subsidised venues, which are certainly not reliant on celebrity, also give the lie to that argument.

By the way, this Jonathan Miller who is contemptuous of celebrity casting – is he the same Jonathan Miller who gave Joanna Lumley the lead role in his 2007 production of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard?

Miller's other complaint about theatre – that it cannot and should not take you out of yourself, but should explore the banal – is more complex. Certainly, great theatre does explore and illuminate ordinary lives. But that exploration, brilliantly written and acted, can also take an audience out of itself and thrill to the live proximity to great talent, an exploration of the mundane delivered in a way that is exhilarating and uplifting. If he had gone to see Mark Rylance in Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem, a tale of a West Country underclass that turned into a lament for a lost England, he would have seen exactly that –and without a celebrity in the lead role.

Dr Miller should get out more.