Trends in theatre 2019 (of sorts)...
As the year draws to a close, many writers decide to write up the best or worst things at the theatre they have seen. Since I try to avoid things I know I won’t like, I'm covering what I've noticed are the all-pervasive trends in London theatre this year... Happy New Year...
Phones in theatres
No theatre space is complete without people wanting to text, secretly film or browse their smartphone. Even at the Royal Opera. As the orchestra started up you could hear the hissing of "turn your phone off" throughout the stalls. I put up with a man sitting next to me who had yet to master the art of silencing his phone by listening to his low battery warning for the first few minutes of the third act. After all, opera-goers can be a tough lot and I didn’t want trouble.
Perhaps we have it all wrong. Theatres could probably win new audiences by having a noisy, phone using section of the theatres. Just like there used to be smoking areas. Just as long as the noisy audiences can be kept away from the traditional audiences. Some theatres already have ideal spaces. One of the highlights of what was an otherwise unwatchable show at the National Theatre, Hansard, was to discover the upper circle slips. You could sit and watch the show (or fall asleep) with virtually nobody else being disturbed.
Immersive theatre isn't a substitute for real theatre.
I’m wary of immersive theatre. It's often an excuse to avoid proper storytelling in favour of cheap sets and cliches made acceptable to audiences thanks to the endless flow of alcohol from pop up bars. Even at its best, it's still a lot more effort for an audience that has had a long day at work and then needs to work hard to make sense of some obscure theatrical "event" happening in an abandoned building somewhere in London. Perhaps you have to be increasingly inebriated to appreciate these things. But it seems like cruelty to the performers and the audiences. Would it be too much to ask for less experiences and more storytelling next decade?
Hard hitting shows in the West End
It's probably a little unfair since the ceilings have collapsed in only two theatres over the past ten years. But the fact that it's happened at all is enough to plant the idea in your mind. No trip to one of these ageing theatres is complete without an inspection of their plasterwork. Perhaps it's time to rather than refurbishing these old buildings and cram more toilets out of old broom cupboards to start demolishing them instead. Theatres for the 21 century would be lovely.
It's not just the shows that are stale
The endless revivals of shows past their prime are one thing, but air quality is another. I've been measuring air quality around London with a portable air quality monitor since the summer. What's intriguing is that the air quality at theatres can vary significantly. Haze machines, industrial lights and poor air conditioning can all play a part. Audiences breathing in Beijing-style air for a couple of hours won't kill you. But it might distract you from enjoying the show. Better ventilation in theatres (even if it means leaving a door open in the smaller ones) could go some way to improve things... And keep audiences awake...