Wednesday, March 03, 2010

One thing that has been rattling around my head since our recent exposure to the NY theatre scene is the actual theatres themselves.

We visited the following theatres -
Booth Theatre which opened in 1913
Al Hirschfeld Theatre which opened in 1924
Eugene O'Neill which opened in 1925
Walter Kerr Theatre which opened in 1921
Vivian Beaumont Theatre which opened in 1973

Can you spot the odd one out there? I am wondering whether one of the reasons we so enjoyed SOUTH PACIFIC at the Beaumont might have been because it was in the most recently-built auditorium? What baffled me was this: why is going to a Broadway theatre, one of the alleged jewels in New York's crown, such an uncomfortable experience?

More often than not the theatre's seemed to be - well - dingy, under-lit and with the strangest atmosphere of neglect and lacking in atmosphere.

It's hard to know where to begin to chronicle the oddness of buying drinks in a Broadway house. In what can only be a throwback to prohibition, the bar seems to be there as some token gesture - it was an odd feeling to be the ONLY people to order interval drinks in two separate theatres! We then had the bizarre occurrence at the Booth Theatre in being told by one of the Lilliputian ushers that we could not take our tiny plastic glasses a) to our seats b) to the bench against the back wall of the theatre behind the back row - and to then stand there and watch us in case we dare move from the one patch of the corridor carpet.

Another peculiarity to that theatre was that the loos were in the basement. I trotted down the stairs to be greeted by a large 'lounge' designed to look like a low-ceilinged Versailles salon that any west end theatre would give it's life to have as a bar - and here it was - quiet as the grave and probably only used for opening or closing night parties.

The Al Hirschfeld has the welcome relief of having a nice permanent exhibition of Hirschfeld's theatrical pen-and-ink caricatures around the circle's foyer but again the auditorium's Moroccan-style interiors seemed to be crying out for some better lighting or at best a steam-clean.

Imagine our joy when we walked into the Eugene O'Neill theatre to find the rather grey auditorium festooned with colour and light thanks to FELA's extended set design. Our happiness was made all the better when the bar-tender told us that we could take our drinks TO OUR SEATS! I nearly kissed her on both cheeks.

The next night saw us in the charming Walter Kerr Theatre with it's lovely auditorium murals of Pan and Harlequin. But again, the 'bar' was in fact a hostess trolley in the already narrow passage behind the back row so the interval was a total bedlam of people either queuing, trying to get away from the queue, trying to get to the loos that were situated on the lower landings of the two narrow staircases on each side of said corridor or people just trying to stretch their legs.

And did we EVER need to stretch... the seats in the circle - and we are talking the top price here - afforded no leg room at all! It was difficult to be swept along by Sondheim's waltz score for A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC when you are crippled by the top-edge of the seat in front of you. Again this was a crime against theatregoers that was perpetrated in the four previous theatres visited!

Imagine then the relief to find the wide open spaces of the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center where one could find a neutral corner in the foyer as well as room to cross your legs while in your seat - well apart from the little mare who kept kicking the back of Owen's seat. I was also amazed to see the Gents illustrated by a neon drop of pee falling into a puddle.

Um... until I realised that it was showing you there was a public water fountain underneath it.Apart from all the above. there was also the strange response from the audiences - to their surroundings and also to what they were watching.

By and large - apart from a couple of totally mad cows who assumed we were there to watch their odd antics - the audiences seemed oddly cowed by their surroundings, as if they were over-awed to be in such temples to the arts. I really didn't feel the audiences felt they had any ownership of the space.

Suzanne put us wise to a recent change that has taken over the audiences - which made me think we are starting to suffer with the same malaise... the need to give EVERYONE a standing ovation.
Now I am happy to say that as Angela Lansbury came on to take her bow I was happy to stand and applaud her effortlessly magical performance - but by then, my fellow-audience members had been on their feet applauding the lowliest supporting cast.

I suspect there are two things at play here - the ticket price is so lofty these days that people need to reassure themselves that the performances they are seeing are all of an unmatched brilliance and also I put it down to the Cowallism of culture - where the most common or garden performance is praised as the Second Coming - or First Going.

Mind you... any theatre that gives me a free programme will have me running back for more. Even from the DON'T LOOK NOW dwarfs of the Booth Theatre.

1 comment:

Owen said...

You missed mentioning the entertaining merch stands...