Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It’s a great shame that political correctness and the rules that apply to nine to five type jobs have been foisted on the theatre. The theatre is unique and nine to five simply doesn’t apply. Sometime ago I thought of submitting a play to the Hampstead Theatre but when I read the crap on their website, equal work opportunities etcetera, decided not to bother. It strikes me that these do-good policies sometimes backfire and do not produce the expected results. A play is cast using the best actors available, it is not cast with consideration towards minorities be they racial, sexual or handicapped. If two actors audition for a certain part, which one is not only likely but has to be selected? The one with the most obvious talent and suitability for the part. The fact that the one rejected happens to come from one of the minorities simply cannot be taken into consideration.

I saw a girl in a London theatre obviously cast because she was one of the minority and who was like a fish out of water she was so excruciatingly bad. Did getting the role do her any favours? I doubt it very much. And I bring up again the casting of a black actor as an English king. What happens to suspension of disbelief when everyone in the audience knows (no matter how talented, how good the performance) there has never been a Black English king. If the entire cast was black that would be a different matter. There are in fact any number of parts in Shakespearean and Elizabethan drama that can legitimately be played by black actors. After all the first blacks entered the country with the Romans and Elizabethans I believe were complaining that there were to many in the country so lots of opportunities there - but an English King? I can’t buy it. A black actor joining in this argument was heard to say why not? White actresses play Cleopatra but that was a bit of a misnomer as Cleopatra was not Egyptian but Greek. Now if he had complained about white actors playing Othello I would tend to agree with him.

Having directed a number of musicals for an amateur company in England their next production was to be “Showboat.” Now there was no way in North Yorkshire that enough blacks would be found to play in it and the picture of all those ladies, delightful as they may have been, putting on dark makeup and doing the mammy act filled me with such antipathy I refused to direct it and that was the end of me and that particular company.

When Chris directed “Blitz” he couldn’t find Indians to make up even one family and that was in Leeds that has a huge Indian population.

The other trend in theatre is sometimes unfortunate as well. Some time back it became known as ‘director’s theatre’ and indeed that is what it is; too often the directors being fart-arsed egotistical trendies, who believe implicitly that they are God’s gift to the theatre but who never trust their material.

Some year ago we saw the most diabolical production of ‘Parsifal’ at The Royal Opera House, direct by Terry Hands. It truly was appalling. Now every director knows what it is like to have a bad hair day some time in their career and come a disastrous cropper but what added insult to injury in this particular instance was, when question about it, Terry Hands had the gall to say, ‘Well who’s interested in Wagner?’

If that was the case why did he take on the job? For the money? For the kudos of working in such a prestigious house? Who rightly knows?

What has brought all this to mind is Stephen Sondheim’s reaction to news of a forthcoming Broadway remake of that wonderful folk-opera Porgy and Bess.

After reading an article written about the show in the New York Times, he penned a letter to the newspaper criticizing the project. The title of the show is now “The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess,” which Sondheim said was "dumb". He also criticised plans to write new dialogue and introduce a happy ending.

Artistic director Diane Paulus, evidently said that in the opera you don't get to know the characters as people. Putting it kindly, Sondheim said, that's wilful ignorance. "These characters are as vivid as any ever created for the musical theatre, as has been proved over and over in productions that may have cut some dialogue and musical passages but didn't rewrite and distort them. I can hear the outraged cries now about stifling creativity and discouraging directors who want to reinterpret plays and musicals... but there is a difference between reinterpretation and wholesale rewriting."

"In the interest of truth in advertising, let it not be called 'The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess'," concluded Sondheim, in his letter. "Advertise it honestly as 'Diane Paulus's Porgy and Bess'. And the hell with the real one." I can’t help the feeling Sondheim is absolutely right.

1 comment:

Lewis said...

Interesting blog. Recently saw a bit of the Ring on tv with all the singers on gantries and dressed in trendy "alien" costumes, except Loge. He whizzed about on a scooter. Directors' theatre with a vengeance. Why didn't the singers refuse to sing under those circumstances?
Porgy - I'm sure you've read Truman Capote's "The Muses are Heard."
That old phony Jonathan Miller recently did a programme on tv saying he hated Gilbert and Sullivan, derided "Nankipoo" and "Yum Yum" as words. Then he directed "The Mikado" and I saw it (tv again). In Victorian evening dress, it became quite menacing, and Yum Yum was still there. He didn't have the courage to change the Lyrics!