LONDON REMEMBERANCES

THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide

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CRICKET'S NOTEBOOK

note: entire contents copyright 1995 by Larry Stark


Friday, 8 December, '95


7:00 p m
The BBC news is playing on WBUR behind me.
Tanya's back after a couple months touring Europe, and she dropped by this morning to show me some nuggets of memory. Even though she's an actress she blushingly admitted to seeing only one play, but she left the programme to Alan Ayckbourn's COMMUNICATING DOORS with me. Reading it through was a fascinating experience.
In London, when you give an usher your ticket you're handed a one-page Cast List, with the bare minimum of pertinent information, all the guilty creative hands, as well as the actors and their roles, spelled out. However, other ushers will SELL you another, glossier programme with a lot of other interesting stuff. When I was last in London (centuries ago...1977 I think) a programme cost about as much as a half-pint of bitter at a pub (at that time 60p. which was $1.25 American; it was a L O N G time ago!).
In America when you go to the equivalent of a big West End theatre (in Boston I mean Ye Wilbur, the Colonial, the Shubert, or the Wang Center) you are given a "free" PLAYBILL, but that's really paid for by 18 pages of advertising out of its 40 pages, and those pages include a two-page "Guide to Entertaining and Dining" that might as well be paid-ads, a page and a half of rstaurant reviews and (at least in the THREE TALL WOMEN Playbill) a page of fashion advice. These are boilerplate that can appear in the Playbill for any Boston show, and some of it for any show anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard. Only about seven pages are directly devoted to the play at hand. And, of course, since the pages are about five-by-eight inches, most of the type is about as readable as that in the Boston HERALD.
Pages of the programme for COMMUNICATING DOORS are slightly smaller than a comic-book --- about seven by ten --- and its 52 pages feel like like a thinner NEW YORKER, but on heavier paper. And there are ads --- 13 pages of ads --- but only five of those are not devoted specifically to the theater itself. I'll get to that in a minute. What impressed me most was the attention paid to the show itself.
The booklet opens with two pages of admitted boilerplate: a page and a half reviewing two London art exhibits and a book review of Garbo's biography. But four pages later is a full page of complete credits, from the name of the theatre down to "Fights directed by..." and a small history of the play's production by another company and this production's performance in another city --- the equivalent of a New York production listing the performances in several try-out towns like Boston and New Haven.
Then there's a two-page article about the writing of the play (his 46th) where Ayckbourn is quoted calling it "one of only about five happy endings I've ever produced." That's followed by a three-page article surveying sci-fi's treatments of time-travel, which is the subject of the play. And then a three-page spread of publicity-stills taken during rehearsals.
Then things get really amazing. The next two pages have a full-page 8x10 head-shot of Julia McKenzie, facing a full-page summary of her acting career --- and that treatment is continued for every one of the five other actors in the cast. The name of the character each plays is printed, in huge pale-grey letters, down the right-hand margins of their curriculum vitae.
There is another intesting note about this collection of credits. Every one begins "Adie {Allen} trained at RADA." "John Arthur trained in Birmingham..." "Ken Bones worked at the home office before training at Rada where..." "Laurence Kennedy trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama." "Sara Markland trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School..." In fact, the only member of the cast without a theater-school background is the star, Julia McKenzie. (The centerspread interrupts the cast bios for again a full-page recreation of the cover and a complete cast-list.)
But that's not all. The following two pages contain half-page biographies of the four UNDERSTUDIES!
The next two pages are again a full-page photo and a page of credits for author-director Ayckbourn, followed by two quite readable pages of credits for the designer, lighting-designer, composer, costume designer, sound designer, and (the longest) the fight director. And after them there's a full page of credits for the PRODUCER, and then a page of credits for the staff people, like carpenter, publicity people, accountants, and et cetera.

Aside: That page has a tastefully small announcement:

SMOKING PERMITTED IN THE BARS (Foyer Bar Excepted)"


which reminds me that Every Floor of a big London theatre has its own bar, and in some theatres you can ask that a "set tea" be brought to your orchestra seat during the matinee intermission!)
You'd think that'd be enough, wouldn't you? But what follows is a three-page spread of the history of the theatre itself --- its architect, the successful plays and stars that were seen there from its opening in 1906 as The Hicks, the 1909 rechristening as The Globe, and the 1994 renaming of it The Gielgud Theatre.
And the programme ends with two more pages of boilerplate: a page of "New York notes" of theatrical news from across the puddle, and a CD-record review column and "SHERIDAN MORLEY'S THEATRE QUIZ" (no relation to our own Mr. Whiteside!)
But I wanted to talk about the ads, didn't I. Let me start with the obvious paid ads, in more or less ascending order. Inside front cover is a Grolsch ad about which more later, and back page is a standard Absolut ad. An ad for a "Bournemouth Conference Hotel" is a page, and there's another for The RAF Benevolent Fund.
All the rest of the obviously paid ads are theater-related: a page for a restaurant and a hotel called "Centre Stage"; an ad for another hotel ("The Manor House") that lists the eleven big theatres it's near; a page for The Theatre Museum; one for Backstage Tours at Drury Lane's Theatre Royal. There's a full-page ad and another half-page touting "Theatre Tokens" --- apparently gift certificates good at 150 London playhouses; and a half-page for a publicity agency called THEATREPRINT that probrably produced the programme.
And there's a full-page ad for "The Theatre Investment Fund" --- a registered charity that PUTS MONEY INTO PRODUCTIONS. The patrons listed are Dame Judi Dench, Sir Michael Horndern, Dame Maggie Smith, and ...... Stephen Sondheim.
But prominent up front is a two-page spread touting the eight productions, including this one, at the eight "Stoll Moss Theatres" in downtown London. That's the equivalent of JuJamCyn putting two full-page ads in PLAYBILL for The Colonial and Ye Wilbur Theatre, or the Shuberts taking an ad for all the Shubert houses in Boston, New Haven, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington in every issue of PLAYBILL. And why, I wonder, don't they?
But about the Grolsch ad. It's mostly white space, inside the front cover. A thick red bar runs down most of the page, with a red-lettered headline on its side to its right that says "You know how it's all going to end." The bar divides character-names at left from dialog-lines at the right, in the smallest type in the entire programme. This is what they say:
         act 1 1/2:   the theatre bar during the interval.
                   (you fight your way to the bar
                    through a crowd of extras)
               you: a grolsch, please.
            barman: a very perceptive choice.
                   (he places an embossed green bottle on the bar)
               you: my sentiments exactly.
                   (there is a dramatic pause
                    while you savor the sight, feel, sound, aroma and
                    finally the taste of grolsch.)
            barman: and they say it awakens the sixth sense by
                   stimulating the other five.
               you: i think they may be right.
                   (you have another taste just to be sure.)
            barman: okay then how does the plot turn out?
                   (you think it over with a quiet sip)
               you: the curtain falls. the audience applauds. the
                    actors bow. and i return to the bar for a
                    breathtaking encore of grolsch.
                   (the barman wipes a tear from his eye.)
            barman: i love a happy ending.

THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide

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