• Good Vs Exceptional: How The Theatre Should Make You Feel

    Good Vs Exceptional: How The Theatre Should Make You Feel

    This past week, I went to see Mary Poppins at the Bristol Hippodrome. I went with a very dear friend, we made an evening of it and we had a great time together. However, I’ve been asked multiple times if I enjoyed the show and this is usually followed up either with “I watched it last week, it was amazing!” or “I’ve heard it’s excellent. We’re going next week, can’t wait!”

    In all honesty, I don’t know what answer to give. Did I enjoy it? Well, as I said, I had a great evening out with a fantastic friend. We shared good food, good wine, good conversation and then we watched a show that for two hours made us both forget about the stresses of work, family life and day to day reality. We tapped our toes, we laughed, we clapped. So yes, I did ‘enjoy’ it.

    I just didn’t think that as a production, it was as stand out and stellar as it should have been. I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life watching theatre with a critical and directorial eye. Maybe that hampers my ability to just sit there and enjoy a show, but I don’t think so. Just this year alone, I’ve seen a wide variety of theatre that has left me speechless for many different reasons. From Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace in Dance ’til Dawn, to The Producers, to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, these shows, all wildly different from one another, have all affected me in different ways, and that is all that I ask for in a piece of theatre.

    I want theatre that makes me laugh until my sides ache. I want theatre that leaves me breathless with exhilaration, wanting and needing more. I want theatre that leaves me dazed long after the lights have come up, and I want theatre that still has me running each and every scene in my head as I settle down to bed.

    I want theatre to make me cry with sadness, joy or despair. I want theatre to inspire me, to make me think, feel, wonder. I want theatre to be emotional, raw, vulnerable. I want theatre that is unafraid to push boundaries, to confront us, to break down barriers and expectations. I want theatre to capture my imagination, to draw me into the world that’s been created on the stage, to take me on a journey and make my heart soar. I want theatre so immersive, so utterly compelling that nothing else exists save for that moment, that space, those people.

    I enjoyed Mary Poppins as much as I’d enjoy sitting down to watch Strictly Come Dancing, Downton Abbey, or Doctor Who, but it didn’t affect me. The sets were incredible, but I spent a long time thinking about how this, that and the other set or trick worked, because the actors on the stage didn’t hold my attention. Sure, big songs like Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious had me smiling and clapping along, thoroughly enjoying it. They all performed well, the dancing was on point, the singing flawless, but those down times in between, the scenes that need to showcase the characters and their personalities, weren’t given the same amount of effort or dedication and it showed.

    It seems to me, more and more, that big name musicals are trading on their recognisable name. They cast based on singing skills with little to no thought to anything else (Yes, touring production of Wicked, I’m looking right at you). For a musical to really succeed properly as an outstanding piece of theatre, you need a cast that can sing, dance and act, all with equal measure. It’s perfectly easy to achieve. It seems to have worked for Gypsy, and I sincerely hope it will work for Funny Girl too but it’s not just London shows. I’ve seen plenty of touring productions or smaller scale shows where the cast are all working as hard as they can to deliver the best possible performance, and it shows. It also shows when that doesn’t happen, and that’s why, as fun as it was, Mary Poppins was not exceptional.

    Categories: Audiences, Personal, Theatres

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