quality over quantity

Wednesday’s Guardian Unlimited Arts blog featured Mark Shenton commenting on the early closure of The Lord of the Rings at Drury Lane in July. Shenton says that the scale of a production doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, with LOTR failing on it’s second occasion after Toronto, Canada in London. – 

it will enter the record books as not just one of the West End’s most lavish productions but also one of its costliest failures.’

At least there is some credit due, as the scale of the show was certainly a new feat in West End theatre.

However, those of us concerned in creating great theatre, when creating any theatre at all, will know that the quality of the show absolutely must match the quantity, if not better it. A feast for the eyes won’t ever cover up a feast for the soul and here is where LOTR pitched short by a long way.

If there is one golden rule I have learned in my time creating theatre, it is that you should never patronise the audience. You need to make them work a bit in order for them to find some attachment within the performance. West End and Broadway are prime suspects of this patronising happening all over the place, although is that the service that they’re doing? Enabling audience members to be entertained and switch-off into a mode of escapism – certainly something which I think theatre should never be.

Shenton goes on to praise The Woman in Black,which is appearing in it’s twentieth year and comparing it to LOTR we can see vast differences on how quality wins over quantity. This theatre challenges the audience through the journey of it’s characters withQuantity or Quality? surprises coming thick and fast. You can never be passive watching a performance such as this and in return you become fulfilled in a way you perhaps you thought you never would; a reason why more of these types of performances should be taking place in the commercial world of West End theatre.

So I have to say farewell and good riddance to LOTR – stick to the big screen please. I am just hoping that it will be replaced with some life changing, epic and fulfilling piece – perhaps some Beckett? All jokes aside, I think it is easy to see why someone such as Samuel Beckett’s works are still being produced and LOTR is well on it’s way to crashing and burning. His texts challenge the audience on almost every line in and the scale of this show will always be far greater than any show like LOTR.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “quality over quantity

  1. Kevin Wallace

    Did you every see LOTR? It’s non-naturalist design does precisely what you claim to seek – in engaging the audience and allowing them to complete the picture.

    There is a pernicious culture of attacking LOTR simply because – unlike Disney – we have been open and honest about how much these large scale shows cost. You would do better if you considered the integrity and creativity on stage in LOTR and compared it to the average production values in the commercial sector. We give our audience value for money and enchantment.
    Kevin Wallace

  2. Sandy Matthews

    Hi Kevin,

    Firstly, thank you for your comment; without sounding patronising, it’s really great to share some passion on a subject such as this.

    No, I confess, I haven’t seen LOTR. I’m not a huge musical fan, however, I am commenting purely on the success of the show and comparing it to it’s scale.

    However, it can’t be all that great down at Drury Lane if this show is cancelling, early. So if the problem doesn’t lie in the integrity and creativity on stage, as you put it yourself, then can you suggest where else the problem lies? Perhaps the audience aren’t finding that enchantment?

  3. Super-Duper site! I am loving it!! Will come back again – taking your feeds too now, Thanks.

    I’m Out! 🙂

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