More actors should follow Mark Rylance’s lead on affordable seats

Stars must insist that their contracts provide for cheap tickets

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If there’s one thing that people are more secretive about than their salaries, it’s the small print of their contracts. Few people show their contracts around. So hats off to the hat-wearing Mark Rylance. The star of Wolf Hall on TV, and numerous successes on stage, insists when he takes on a theatre role, that the contract states there will be a sizeable percentage of affordable seats. The contract for his role next month in the West End, Farinelli and the King, a play by his wife Claire van Kampen, states precisely that.

Rylance, thank goodness, has made a public protest about the high cost of going to the theatre, telling The Stage recently that our subsidised national institutions like the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre are too expensive. He was swiftly followed by actress Juliet Stevenson saying that she couldn’t afford to take her family to see her friend Harriet Walter in the RSC’s Death of a Salesman in the West End. She phoned up Ms Walter to tell her that taking her two children would have cost her £285.

It’s good that at last actors are speaking out about the high cost of theatre tickets, and a very few, including Ms Stevenson, even raise the subject of those iniquitous booking fees. Clearly a woman after my own heart, she said: "Why should you have to pay to buy a product? You don’t go into a shop and pay the shop for the privilege of buying a product from them. Booking fees are completely scandalous.”

But it is using a contract of employment to ensure affordability for audiences that interests me most. I’ve not heard of anyone apart from Mark Rylance insisting that producers write into the contract the assurance that a certain number of seats will be affordable. Why on earth don’t more follow his example? Indeed, I must wonder at this point if Juliet Stevenson and Harriet Walter will be following up on their recent conversation by insisting that their own future contracts have a clause demanding affordable seats. And with an eye to outlawing the ‘scandalous’, Juliet Stevenson’s future contracts could also contain a clause saying that she will not perform at venues which charge a booking fee. It’s not a revolutionary stance – the comedian Sarah Millican has refused to do just that.

Mark Rylance is not the only big stage star with the power to make demands and have them guaranteed in writing. He is just the only one to make it such a priority that he is prepared to forego a starring role if he doesn’t get this guarantee. Other actors must now stand up and be counted. They have more power than they think, and they owe it to their audiences to take a stand over high prices. Mark Rylance isn’t exactly starved of roles, because producers and theatre owners don’t want to lose the lure of star names. In their contracts of employment, performers possess a real force for change.



James Naughtie’s move from the Today programme is a loss for the arts

The impending departure of James Naughtie from Radio 4’s Today programme is bad news for the arts. Before joining Today, Naughtie hosted a weekly opera programme on Radio 3, and has since fronted books programmes. Music and literature remain passions of his, with other art forms not far behind. His questioning of cultural figures on Today has always shown the essential blend of enthusiasm and deep knowledge. I’m not convinced that his colleagues on the programme have quite the same level of passion.



Nice opera, shame about the specs

The main drawback to 3d films for me, apart from the fact that they are rarely better than 2D, is the absurd looking glasses that you have to wear. Now it has been reported that they may be on their way for opera and theatre too. At the Avignon festival, some revolutionary glasses have been tested. They give the viewer, in the corner of the frames, a personal translation in the language of choice of the performance on stage. No more having to look up every few seconds it’s true, but the thought that they will apparently be available over here within a year does make me feel a little queasy. The Covent Garden auditorium full of people wearing thick, weird-looking spectacles to watch Wagner or Verdi would look even more freakish and other-worldly than it does now.