What a bitter blow for Andrew Lloyd Webber, who has done so much to get his shows on the road and the West End booming again — at one point even threatening to sue the Government if his theatres could not open at full capacity
Saturday afternoon was blazingly hot. A day for the beach, not for a West End show.
But like hundreds of others, I was outside the Gillian Lynne Theatre in London’s Drury Lane, clutching my matinee ticket for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new production of Cinderella.
It was a major event. This was the show that was supposed to reopen the West End, to provide the stardust-starved with a respite from the pandemic closures that have kept theatres dark for 16 months.
We shall go to the ball! At least that is what we thought, shuffling through the heat towards the inviting cool of the auditorium, where the magic, we hoped, would begin.
But uh oh — what was this?
Knots of people were gathered on the pavement. Theatre staff in waistcoats and white shirts moved among them, handing out notices.
Some ticket-holders, who had travelled from afar, were clearly upset. Little girls were crying.
Why? Because the show had been cancelled at the last minute. ‘Something to do with Covid security,’ said the staff, polite under pressure, but buckling with the weight of so many dashed hopes.
The pingdemic had struck again, shutting down an entire West End production because one double-jabbed cast member had tested positive for Covid. It seems absurd — like so much does these days — but to date, this Cinderella is still closed.
What a bitter blow for Andrew Lloyd Webber, who has done so much to get his shows on the road and the West End booming again — at one point even threatening to sue the Government if his theatres could not open at full capacity.
His argument is that cultural events have been singled out for unfair restriction, and it is hard to disagree with his view.
Restaurants, clubs, shops and sporting events are all unlocking or are already open for business, while most theatres have remained shuttered, hampered by elaborate socially distanced precautions or forced to open with financially ruinous reduced houses.
It feels as though Boris and co just don’t care about the West End and regional theatres, convincing themselves that culture doesn’t matter as much as sport, and, since only a few luvvies and small audiences are involved, why even bother anyway?
Yet it is not just the stars who suffer. They are only the visible, fixed points in an entire showbiz galaxy of diligence and excellence that is the envy of the world.
Today, not only do the futures of sundry actors and actresses hang in the balance, but also those of musicians, singers, dancers, carpenters, producers, accountants, wig-makers, backstage hands, electricians, costumiers, hair and make-up technicians and choreographers, plus a support network of dry cleaners, taxi drivers, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, that all rely on theatres for their own trade.
Elite sportsmen and women have been given Covid exemptions, but not theatre cast and crew. Why? The UK Government needs to do more to help the theatre sector, instead of treating it like an indulgence that doesn’t matter.
Without Broadway, there is no New York. Without the West End, London would probably stagger on — but surely in a much diminished capacity.
In an average year, around 15.5 million people go to London theatres, bringing in an annual box office revenue of more than £770 million.
It is a huge draw, for tourists and locals alike, pumping a torrent of cash into the British economy.
It also provides a starting block for many home-grown creatives, who have a global reputation for excellence in film-making, production, animation and special effects — much of it rooted in regional and national theatres.
For every star the West End produces, it provides hundreds more jobs — cracking jobs at that — for young people.
It is an industry we should be cherishing and supporting, not allowing to wither on the vine.
There is something more. At a time when the pandemic has forced many people into a solitude they did not want, in an age when most of our communication, education and entertainment takes place in front of a screen, the theatre has become more important than ever.
It brings people together; being part of a live audience makes us realise how deeply we need communal experiences, how much we need each other.
The joy of shared laughter, the satisfying thrill of a collective gasp, the final ovation of expressed gratitude? All part of the magic.
I’m not saying it’s perfect. The prices are often prohibitive. The seats can be uncomfortable. The shows can be awful. I once trampled over an entire row to flee from Cillian Murphy’s incomprehensible one-man show, Misterman.
And there have been times, in the darkness of the stalls, when I have seriously wondered about the acting skills of such big stars as Keira Knightley or Anna Friel, imagining whether an ironing board on castors, correctly lit, might do a better job.
Or winced at the spittle spray produced by Al Pacino when I should have been concentrating on the plot.
Elsewhere, I hated The Book Of Mormon, loved Bodyguard The Musical, would watch Adrian Scarborough in anything, ditto the wonderful Dames Judi, Maggie, Helen and Eileen.
We need theatres and live performances more than ever, because they provide a quality of escapism that is hard to beat. For right now, the view from the cheap seats is terrifying. Huge areas of London, such as Canary Wharf, have become ghost towns.
When will life ever regenerate there? Our national debt has gone into trillions, while any minute now there will be no pasta or loo rolls or glass slippers left on the supermarket shelves.
And what hope for Cinderella then? I shudder to think.
Why Dolly’s hubby is a happy bunny
As a treat for her husband Carl’s birthday, Dolly Parton dressed up as a Playboy bunny.
As a treat for her husband Carl’s birthday, Dolly Parton dressed up as a Playboy bunny
‘I said I was going to pose for Playboy magazine when I was 75,’ she explained.
‘Well I am 75 now, and they don’t have a magazine any more.’
This did not deter our Dolly. Over her bunny costume and Jessica Rabbit curves, she appeared to be wearing a fishnet top the approximate size of a fishnet.
It had a practical use, keeping everything in place, like a tarpaulin lashed over the heavy-action turrets on a gunboat.
‘My husband always loved the original Playboy cover, so I was trying to think of something to do to make him happy.
‘He still thinks I am a hot chick after 57 years,’ purred indefatigable Dolly.
Carl still loves her. And so do I.
What is it about this ridiculous Christmas in July trend? What kind of person craves a Marks & Spencer turkey and stuffing sandwich in the middle of summer, or can’t get through the hols without an Aldi mince pie? The kind of person for whom the now is never enough. The kind of person who is insatiable for what they can’t have, just because they can’t have it. The kind of person who has the emotional maturity of a screaming toddler.
Meanwhile, M&S are slashing the Christmas range in Northern Ireland because of new trade protocols. But if it means no more winter berry and prosecco-flavoured crisps, perhaps shoppers shouldn’t feel too sad.
Johnny’s not so vacant on history
Johnny Rotten seems an unlikely contender to save the Queen, but that is exactly what he seems to be doing.
As part of a legal wrangle with former bandmates about using their music in a new TV drama, the former leader of the Sex Pistols told the High Court this week how he previously refused to allow the song God Save The Queen to be used in hit drama The Crown.
Why not? These days, Lydon lives in California where he is the primary carer for his wife, Nora, who has dementia. The money from the Netflix series sure might come in handy.
Yet Rotten objected because The Crown wanted to depict the song being played as crowds rioted and threw bottles at the Queen in the middle of her 1977 Jubilee celebrations.
‘The story that they presented was with the Queen in despair in her carriage, and all those ugly scenes on the streets of crowds fighting and chucking bottles, while others were celebrating the Queen,’ he said. ‘Nobody was rioting, and here is my real, serious problem with it. This never happened. This is a lie about history.
‘The only people making any demonstration at all about the Royal Family that day were the Sex Pistols on a boat trip down the Thames — lovely songs of protest in front of the Houses of Parliament, and that’s it.’
As part of a legal wrangle with former bandmates about using their music in a new TV drama, the former leader of the Sex Pistols told the High Court this week how he previously refused to allow the song God Save The Queen to be used in hit drama The Crown
The case continues, but it is an interesting insight into what the Royal Family are now up against. History being rewritten on the whim of others — and not at all in their favour.
Sometimes it feels as if the makers of The Crown in general, and writer Peter Morgan in particular, absolutely loathe the monarchy.
In The Crown, few opportunities are missed to belittle or degrade the Windsors as hateful frauds with few redeeming features. And all of this is lapped up by a global audience of 29 million, most of whom think they are watching history, not history adulterated. And now, with Harry and Meghan continuing the damaging attacks from California, one wonders how the monarchy can survive the blows.
Good on Norway for playing sports in shorts, not bikinis
Sisterly solidarity with Norway’s beach handball team who have been fined £130 each for wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms at a European Championship match.
The women received the fines after their game against Spain in Bulgaria. Am I joking? No, I am not. They were accused of wearing ‘improper clothing’ that was against ‘the Athlete Uniform Regulations defined in the beach handball rules of the game’. It was like the Miss World contest all over again. I half expected Michael Aspel to appear on court with a stick microphone, asking the women about their plans for global peace and checking their vital statistics.
Ladies, I support you, which is more than those flimsy pants could. Stand firm in your clothing choices.