If it can't be seen from the cheap seats, it's in the wrong place

Plus, the Culture Secretary needs to be on the side of audiences


A phrase in this paper’s review of the world premiere of The Winter’s Tale by the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, struck me rather forcibly. Describing a striking stage effect of the bear in the plot clawing at the humans, our critic noted: “Shakespeare’s celebrated ‘exit, pursued by a bear’ becomes a billowing silk wave – though the bear’s reaching claws aren’t visible from all parts of the house.”

Audience members, who had read the reviews, took to Twitter to express their dismay at missing this, even though they had paid to be there. Should a brand new production be short-changing part of the audience?

Increasingly, it’s not unusual for even our finest directors to ignore parts of the house with important, dramatic effects. There are few directors in the world finer than Michael Grandage. But last year I saw his magnificent production of Billy Budd at Glyndebourne, and because I was sitting on the side of the auditorium I missed the climactic scene, which was played out on the side of the stage. It was Billy Budd being hanged (or so I’m told), a not unimportant part of the drama. And Glyndebourne, unlike the Royal Opera House, is a relatively new auditorium.

These are just two of many examples. Readers have told me that the Almeida theatre in London as another place where the wrong seats will give you a very partial view.

It is, when you think of it, pretty bizarre that this can happen, and happen so often. Would one buy a ticket for a football match if one knew that one was going to see a lot of the pitch, just not the part containing the goal?

Perhaps we need a directors’ code, which would state that all the pivotal parts of the action must be played on or near the middle of the stage. Perhaps, too, (and I have yearned for this for a long time) they should sit in all parts of the auditorium to watch rehearsals, so they know what will and will not be visible to those who haven’t been able to pay top price. And maybe critics should sit in the cheap seats as well... which might well concentrate directors’ minds to make all the action visible to all.

Meanwhile, to paraphrase the most famous stage direction in literature, “exit, pursued by a bear who is a very quick mover so blink and you’ll miss him”.

The Culture Secretary needs to be on the side of audiences

A number of readers have emailed to add their annoyance to that of the reader I mentioned last week, who complained of being charged to print her own tickets. One reader, Simon Bowden, says: “The Eden Sessions (concerts held at the Eden Project) have a tickets price of £35 each. You then have to pay a £5 booking fee per ticket for the privilege of printing each ticket at home.”

Meanwhile, the new Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, has been quoted as defending ticket touts as “entrepreneurs”. That doesn’t bode well. If he is defending touts, he is hardly likely to want to take action about the worst excesses of booking fees. A Culture Secretary needs to show empathy with the needs and irritations of audiences, ranging from complaints about being charged to print your own tickets by reputable arts organisations to being fleeced by touts. It’s your job to stand up for audiences, Mr Javid, not to stand up for ticket touts.

This headline is sponsored by fans of venues’ original names

The Wembley Arena is being renamed the SSE Wembley Arena after energy company SSE paid £15m for naming rights. The deal was arranged by AEG Global Partnerships, who say that brands now see the benefit that mobile-phone operator O2 got from renaming the Millennium Dome. I suspect that SSE will find that the O2 is an exception. How many people say they are going to a gig at the Eventim Apollo in London? Most still think and speak of it as the Hammersmith Apollo. The Millennium Dome is the exception because it wasn’t around very long with that name. But Wembley Arena has seen memorable performances over decades by pretty much all of the biggest names in rock. Generally, we fans don’t like brands toying with the names of famous venues. It’s toying with our memories.

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