It would seem American film stars in considerable numbers cannot wait to take the plunge on British stages and not only in the West End. The latest to join the trend is Sharon Gless, now in her sixties, one time star of the popular TV series, ‘Cagney And Lacey’ who is appearing at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith in a play called ‘A Round-Heeled Woman.’
Whatever happened to quotas? According to the dictates of both English and American Equities there was a time when it was virtually impossible for actors to cross the Atlantic in either direction. It was a wonderful game of tit for tat. We’ll allow so-and-so to appear on Broadway if you will allow so-and-so to appear in London. Have Equity in both countries lost their teeth and how many Brit actors are appearing in America at the moment? There is Daniel Radcliffe of course in ‘How To Succeed In Business’ but then, as the star of Harry Potter, he is a gilt edged investment for putting bums on seats. That is not to denigrate his talent. Looking at exerts of the show he is quite obviously a true performer.
Dominic Cavendish in The Telegraph decrying the trend heads his article ‘When the player, not the play, is the thing’ though he is not against the big guns whatever their nationality treading the boards. He has nothing but praise for the likes of Keira Knightly, Kevin Spacey, Jude Law, Ralph Feines. No, instead of fine actors being used and God knows there is talent in abundance; his objection is to what he calls the tatty names and faces off the telly that managements think are necessary to bring in the dumbed down crowds to see their favourites, especially with the price of theatre tickets what they are. I’m not denying that television is a powerful medium. Why else would advertisers use it to push their products with ‘As Seen On Television.’ Do they still do it I wonder? And of course there are gifted actors appearing on television but there is also a great deal of dross that should never be allowed near a theatre to spoil a good play which is what Cavendish is saying, as is Alan Ayckbourn.
I have suffered the fate. Many years ago a two-hander play I had on in London was slaughtered by the critics mainly because the actress in it, who was known from a popular soap at the time, was dire and simply couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag.
I was once in a dreadful play called ‘Who Goes Bare?’ set in a nudist colony obviously, for a summer season; admittedly not in the West End but in a pretty large seaside town and virtually everyone in the cast was billed as ‘Seen in so-and-so on television.’ I’m quite sure the holiday making audiences would have come to the theatre without that incentive.
I had a star from the soap 'Eastenders' play Captain Hook in a production of my 'Peter Pan' and I might as well have directed a piece of wood. Come to think of it I might have got a better performance out of the wood!