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Monday, October 18, 2021

Sometimes theatre audiences have the right to be angry – especially when a star has cancelled

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.

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