The world of theatre-goers gave a slightly over-dramatic cheer last week when it was announced that Michael Grandage would be taking up residence in the Noel Coward theatre for 15 months. Michael Grandage has done wonderful things at the Donmar Warehouse and now the idea of him setting up camp in the West End with the added bonus of £10 tickets has made everyone come over all fluttery.
And rightly so. The chance to get West End tickets for £10 is wonderful. I've spent many a blog complaining about the purse-withering cost of tickets so I welcome this new scheme with open arms. Well, partially open arms. Because, if you're a regular reader of my blog, you'll know that when it comes to the world of acting and theatre and television and directors and pretty much anything else, I like to keep an eye on the negatives too. And so my first gripe comes, I'm afraid, courtesy of the ticket prices. Now, it's safe to say that other than the cast members that have so far been announced (more on that later) the cost of tickets for these shows is what everyone has latched on to. And of course they have. Over 100,000 cheap tickets is pretty exciting and it means that it will hopefully encourage younger audiences into West End theatres. But if you try and book a ticket online (which is infuriating enough anyway as you seem to have to click through each individual day rather than being able to select a certain one) and you'll quickly find that there are no tickets at £10. Not one. And this isn't because they're sold out. Oh no. What the press neglects to tell you is that there's actually a booking fee of £2 meaning that all cheap tickets are in fact, £12. Add this to the fact that all the '£10 tickets' on line are either so far back you might as well be sat at the top of Alexandra Palace or would need to possess the neck structure of a giraffe to see maybe an inch of the stage and you're better of heading down the National Theatre instead. The only way out of paying the booking fee? Book tickets for all five shows at once. Yeah, nice try Grandage...
And then there's the cast list. Go to the Michael Grandage Company website or read any news article about it and you'll find it pretty hard to ignore the cast they've got lined up so far. Of course they're proud of who've they've managed to secure but yet again we find ourselves stuck in this trap that a West End show has to have a 'celebrity' lead by law. Should you wish to see The Cripple of Inishmaan, be prepared to share the auditorium with a host of Harry Potter fans as they all eagerly await another poor performance from Daniel 'can't act for a year's supply of toffee' Radcliffe. I've complained on a fairly regular basis about the plague of celebrity stars in the West End so I won't prattle on about it too much but I should add that a friend of mine went to see The Sunshine Boys recently which stars Richard Griffiths and Danny DeVito. Although she enjoyed the play, she was horrified by the fact that both actors were greeted with cheers, applause and standing ovations the second they stepped on stage. That's what audiences have become. They no longer need fine performances or beautifully subtle wordplay. They just need that short guy that was in Junior and that bloke that was in Pie In The Sky to keep them happy.
But please don't get me wrong. I'm all for what Grandage is doing and I sincerely hope that it's a huge success. However, it's hard not to see these shows going the same way as every other West End performance where those with the money fork out for the top-price tickets, the dedicated hardcore manage to swipe the cheap tickets (or sell them on for profit) and yet again, everyone else from the first-time theatre goer to the average play-attender, get left out in the cold, desperately scouring Shaftesbury Avenue for returns.