Now they’re using Game of Thrones to sell Shakespeare. And there’s nothing wrong with that

At least it might bring the TV audience to the theatre

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It’s the way they tell ‘em. I’ve always had a secret admiration for the many, and often large, marketing departments in arts organisations. Theirs is the always tricky task of trying to sell tickets for events that, in non-marketing speak, are much the same as events on at 100 other places or even at the same place just a couple of months ago. Biggest nightmare of all, you might have to market a Shakespeare play, and how do you make a well-known classic sound different enough, “sexy” in the jargon, to attract a new audience or any audience at all?


Over at the Union theatre in London, they have hit on a novel ruse. Certainly, it caught my eye this week – and that’s an eye that usually glazes over early in the week from extreme exposure to arts marketing. At the Union, the Phil Willmott company is putting on a production of Shakespeare’s Wars of the Roses plays, adapted from the Henry VI trilogy. I guess they could have left it at that, and hoped that the play’s the thing.

But instead they have announced: “A rare chance to see the Shakespeare that inspired RR Martin’s Game of Thrones….Conceived specifically to appeal to Game of Thrones fans this rare chance to see the plays that inspired Thrones author R.R Martin celebrates Shakespeare as a pioneer of epic story telling.”

And at the top of their publicity material is the title of the play that Shakespeare nearly, but not quite, chose —  “HV1: Play of Thrones”.

Game of Thrones does indeed have a narrative about a civil war among several noble houses, though it is for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms rather than the Plantagenet crown. It’s also true that Game of Thrones creator RR Martin did say in an interview: “I take stuff from the Wars of the Roses and other fantasy things, and all these things work around in my head and somehow they jell into what I hope is uniquely my own.” So there is method in the marketing madness.

There are two ways to look at this. One is that it’s a defeatist approach to Shakespeare, assuming as it does that, only by relating him to a popular TV series (on a bit of an iffy premise) will you attract an audience. The plays on their own won’t bring the punters to the box office. The second way is to acknowledge a clever sleight of hand by the marketing people, and congratulate them for reaching out to a potential new audience by harnessing a massively popular TV cult to bring people to a playwright and storyteller that might, just might, hook them inexorably on theatre and the classics.

I may have once taken the first view, but now I am firmly of the second. Now I advocate trying anything that can break these needless barriers between the so-called high arts and middle market, between audiences that frequent the theatre and those that don’t, but devour film and TV. In the cause of selling Shakespeare and maybe changing lives, do whatever it takes.


At last the Turner Prize has learned from its mistakes 

A small victory to end the year. I argued here a few weeks ago that the Turner Prize must change to end the preponderance of video art on the shortlist (three of the four shortlisted artists this year). Surely, the shortlist, and subsequent exhibition, must include other genres such as painting and sculpture, so that the prize gives a broader view of excellence in contemporary art. I gather now that Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, which oversees the prize, will be “encouraging” the judges next year to emphasise breadth in the shortlist. Three cheers for that.


The award for worst booking fee goes to...

In my campaign against booking fees, I keep an eye open for the most outrageous fees being charged. There is quite a bit of competition for this accolade. But a number of readers have alerted me to as an example of the more extreme end of the market. I see that for the production of The Ruling Class at the Trafalgar Studios in London, on a £70 seat (eyebrow-raising in itself) they are charging a whopping £15 booking fee. Love theatre? These charges could turn you off for good.