Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Starring Michelle Collins and Keith Duffy

Hampstead Theatre is a theatre founded on artistic credibility and sustained by a reputation that means it attracts some of the best writers in the UK today and that actors want to perform there. It is a theatre where all actors are equal, like yellow cards before the world cup quarter finals, whatever success they have had and whatever fame they do have, count for nothing. It is all about the production and the play. Nothing else matters. Or so the theory goes.

A short distance away, Trafalgar Studios are also producing a high quality bill of plays for discerning audiences who are looking for high quality productions of new or critically acclaimed works. The TV credits of actors mean nothing to the people that attend, they are not swayed by such shallow considerations. Or so we are led to believe.

And yet, in the last week, productions have opened at both of these venues where the main device for generating publicity has been to plaster the words 'Starring Michelle Collins' and 'Starring Keith Duffy' on any poster, programme or press release they can find.

It is a sad and damning indictment of the theatre crowd today if they really need these inducements to get them into the shows. This is not to say that either Collins or Duffy are bad in their respective productions. Both of them, in fact, give strong performances, with Duffy in particular defying critics who may have relished the prospect of trashing the West End debut of someone who is cursed with the twin evils of boyband super stardom and a role in a long running soap opera.

But neither Collins or Duffy are the stars of their shows. Duffy is closer to a cameo than a central performance, while Collins is part of an ensemble piece where there are at least two other actors with a higher billing than her in terms of their roles and stage time. So why push their names to their forefront? Because they are household names? Because they may attract a voyeuristic crowd hoping to see them fall flat on their faces? Because they are the only redeeming feature in plays that are so poor that they would otherwise never get an audience?

The answers to the above are probably yes, maybe and no, in that order. But by pushing the names of the soap stars to the top of the list, the press officers are only managing to detract from the quality of the rest of the production, reducing the quality of the writing and performances of their fellow actors to minor, almost irrelevant, details. It's insulting to audiences to imply that this is the only reason they would want to come and see a production, or is something that they put so much weight on that it will become a decisive factor in their decision, and it's insulting to the other people involved in the production who have collectively created finished products that are greater than the sum of any of their individual parts.

I don't blame Duffy or Collins for this, as I doubt that either of them insisted that they be given top billing, or that either of them believe they are going to be the difference between the plays succeeding or failing, but I do think that the press officers who believed that the presence of an ex-soap star was the thing they needed to major on, should take a close look at themselves. If the soap star is the only reason they'd go to see a play, they are in the wrong job. If they think it's the only reason other people would go and see a play, then they are dismissing the audience and treating them with a patronising contempt that most of them don't deserve.

Of course, if I'm wrong and they're right, and this is what you have to do to get an audience, then maybe writers everywhere should just give up, and resign ourselves to a world where content is unimportant as long as the words 'starring that bloke or woman from the telly' can be included in the promotional material.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Everything Counts

It's a competitive world, as the Depeche Mode boys said, and that was in the 80s. It's got more competitive since. You have to be on your game all the time if you're to stay in the lead. The world of blogging is probably no exception to this, so with that in mind, welcome to my first blog post since December, when I got off the game (that's blogging rather than prostitution, just in case you're wondering). In truth I was never really on it, at an average of one post a month, normally when it got to the end of the month and I realised I hadn't posted anything, but it was always in my to do list.  

So what competitive advantage have I lost in my absence? Has anyone missed me, apart, maybe, from the person who tried to post comments in relation to my last two posts, telling me how much he agreed with them, had found they had a lot to say, and echoed what he had been saying on his blog that he helpfully posted a link to, and that turned out, on not so close inspection, to be nothing to do with The X Factor or the Gibraltar National Football Team.

Traffic has of course gone down in the last few months, no doubt as people clicked on their favourites and found, yet again, that there was no new content here, and yet there were no internet debates asking what had happened to the man who posted 'Jumping the Shark of Revenge' 'Naked Royals Here' and 'There's no Nashville in Nashville'.  It appears that unlike David Bowie, there was no speculation about unpublished material, and the blog posts I might be planning to unleash on the world when the time was right.

That's not to say I've had no readers. There have been visitors, and in fact there has been a shift in my audience. The majority of visitors in 2013 were from the United States and yet in the last month, two thirds of the traffic has come from Russia. Who'd have guessed it? Maybe it was all the winter Olympians sitting on their shared toilets showing each other the post about the World Cup in Qatar and saying 'and you think that's bad.' Or maybe it was Vladimir Putin looking at the blog, because it's one of the few that has never said anything bad about him and the putative laws he's passing in Russia. If it is, here's a message 'Vlad - come out of the closet, you are fooling no-one'. And that's another reader gone.

Except that I doubt it was him, or indeed anyone applying their translation skills to discover why National Record Store Day was a rip off or why it's a good thing Jackie Mason is no longer doing stand up in the UK. At best, it will have been people searching for nude pictures of Royal family members, and stumbling on my greatest piece of Search Engine Optimisation - the post about nude pics of Kate Middleton. They will have scrolled to the bottom, just in case the pictures were at the end of the English that they couldn't read, and then clicked off and looked at another site. At worst, they won't even have been people. They will have been some automated internet trawling device looking to find something they could clone, hack, or do something else with, to demonstrate just what an unlovely place most of the world is today. And that sort of gets us back to the start of this post, although it's taken a massive detour to get there, and the routing still won't be that clear. 

We live in a world where everything is an opportunity to be exploited, and where misery has become a profit making business. From the pre-recorded phone messages of ‘had an accident (sue the bastard and give us some of the money)’ and ‘Government legislation means you can write off your debt (and pay us some of it)’ to all the other dubious cold calls and internet scams, people around the country and around the world are doing unto others what they would be pissed off with if anyone did to them. They justify this on the basis that it’s a business, it’s making them money and so what if people fall for it, they shouldn’t be so feckless. It's a competitive world and you have to do what you can to get on. Competitiveness has been accepted as the default position of the human condition,  All men (and women) are equal, but we should all work to disrupt that equation and get ourselves in the lead. 'Get ahead in business ' 'get yourself higher in search engine rankings' ‘get one over on the opposition’ - success is everything and we should all live by that motto. 

But, here’s the thing, it's not true.  Competition is not always healthy, and first place isn't what we should all be striving for. By it's very name, first place is something only one person, or group, can occupy, and that means a lot of people either making themselves miserable in their relentless quest for it, or making other people miserable by pursuing it at their expense with calls they don't want, emails they won't read, and other far worse things that show just how much profit is valued above people. It didn't used to be that way, it doesn't have to be that way now. Even if it is a competitive world, it doesn't have to be one where the success you have equates to the number of people you piss off or exploit. Depeche Mode were not singing a mantra for business in the 80s, let's just remember that.