This short-sighted profiteering is killing theatre's future

Far be it from me to tell young people to go to the theatre if theatres don't want them
Click to follow
The Independent Online

I was inadvertently too kind last week when I accused West End theatres – and come to that cinemas and music venues – of ripping off customers by charging booking fees for each transaction. A number of you have e-mailed me to point out that the fees are, of course, not just charged per booking but per ticket, an even greater exploitation of the audience, as there is only one transaction involved whether it involves one ticket or six tickets.

I was inadvertently too kind last week when I accused West End theatres – and come to that cinemas and music venues – of ripping off customers by charging booking fees for each transaction. A number of you have e-mailed me to point out that the fees are, of course, not just charged per booking but per ticket, an even greater exploitation of the audience, as there is only one transaction involved whether it involves one ticket or six tickets.

Many of you are also fed up with another habit of theatres, which not only adds to the cost for ticket buyers but invalidates the claim of theatre managements that they want to encourage young people. The issue is the unwillingness to give reductions for children. In this shortsighted profiteering, theatres go further than cinemas, which have always offered child reductions.

One reader tells me how he tried to book in advance tickets for himself and his 12-year-old daughter to see a Saturday matinee of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd at Sadlers Wells. OAPs, the unemployed and students over 16 could book reduced priced tickets in advance, but under-16s could not. No one at the box-office was able to offer a satisfactory explanation, other than the fact that it wasn't a show aimed at children.

I'd have thought this macabre but funny black comedy was perfect for kids, but far be it from me to advocate them going to the theatre if theatres don't want them.

The National Theatre, RSC and Almeida are among theatres that have a good record on offering child reductions; the Warwick Arts Festival tells me it has a policy of offering a £1 seat for a child next to a £20 adult seat, which sounds a good idea. But much of the commercial sector and even some subsidised venues do precious little to encourage families. According to the Society of London Theatres, child reductions are "not unheard of" and do sometimes occur with child-oriented shows; but they are not the norm. Young people going to the theatre is not the norm either. It's no coincidence.

* I wish the late Sam Peckinpah were alive today. I would love to have arranged a meeting between the film director and the psychologist used by the British Board of Film Classification to pronounce on the effects on an audience of the rape scene in Peckinpah's 1971 movie, Straw Dogs. Peckinpah, a macho ex-Marine, would have won on points; though more likely it would have been a knockout. But while he might have felt he didn't need a psychologist's approval and was artful enough to convey the complexity of the plot and initial ambivalence and later horror of the female character, at least this classic film will now be available.

The ruling was one of the last decisions of the board under the presidency of Andreas Whittam Smith, who steps down at the end of the month. He has been a source of enlightenment at the BBFC, explaining policy, seeking public views at "roadshows", taking a stern view on violence and an adult and liberal view on sex. And I'm not just an admirer of his judgement because he hired me to work on this paper.

I do worry a little, though, about the board listening too much to psychologists. Useful as it claims the exercise was in this case over concerns that a woman may have been depicted as enjoying rape, where do you draw the line? Peckinpah was a misogynist; most critics would agree that Alfred Hitchcock was too, and his films betray that misogyny. Are psychologists to decide whether easily influenced audiences will be led into thinking misogyny a good thing? Sometimes it is best to let the work of great artists speak for itself, warts, prejudice, ambivalence and all, without a doctor's certificate.

* Next Friday night Albert Finney will give an uncannily lifelike impersonation of Winston Churchill in the BBC film The Gathering Storm. I gather that Churchill's daughter, Mary Soames, attended a private screening and was mesmerised by Finney's performance – after nearly jumping out of her seat when he appeared naked in one scene. Those associated with the film wondered nervously whether Lady Soames might spot any historical inaccuracies. She only commented on one. When the young actress playing Mary as a girl came on screen, Lady Soames apparently glared at the BBC staff and declared: "I never wore spectacles."

* Many a pub conversation, and probably academic thesis, has been devoted to the difference between men and women's sense of humour. There was a telling example this week at the West End transfer of Kenneth Lonergan's witty and perceptive play, Lobby Hero. At one point a philandering New York cop tries to seduce his junior female co-worker. "This has never happened to me before. To tell the truth, I'm scared," he says to her intensely. I noted that the women in the audience – who just perhaps had heard the lines before – were falling about with laughter. Not a man so much as giggled.

d.lister@independent.co.uk

Comments