Moreover, it’s disingenuous for people to argue that the audience at that performance was still ‘getting’ Cinderella. Technically, of course they are. But it isn’t the same product as advertised. If I had travelled miles to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet only to be presented with a stand-in, or – looking ahead – forked out for a night to remember with Mark Rylance, who will reprise his turn in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem next year, but was instead confronted by a relative unknown, then I’d be entitled to feel a bit short-changed.
It’s not just what an actor is doing now, or where they’re going career-wise, that matters, it’s what they’ve done in the past, the reputation around them, that galvanises an audience. I paid through the nose to see Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in David Hare’s The Breath of Life; the play was forgettable but I still cherish the memory of beholding the two dames treading the boards together.
It can’t be past the wit of producers – in this age of digital innovation – to flex tickets so that, if you ‘have’ to see the star in question, you can pay more and get a safety-net guarantee that you’ll get another chance if the worst happens.
Some argued online that the berating of Fletcher exemplified a worsening slide in audience etiquette. Well, yes, sometimes online and in public, there’s bovine behaviour. But having seen an usher tell off an audience-member the other day for daring to enter the foyer of a West End theatre after the performance had ended – as if he was in disastrous breach of protocol – it’s worth the industry looking hard at its own rules of engagement. Post-Covid, Joe Public seems mercifully glad to have theatre back. Our theatre should reciprocate in kind.