Last week he made an impromptu stage door appearance to tell the fans gathered there, "I want to try to enlist you. I don't use social media, and I'd really appreciate it if you tweeted, blog, hash tagged the sh*t out of this: I can see cameras, I can see red lights, in the auditorium." That night, they had to re-start the show after, as he put it, "I could see a red light in about the the third row on the right — it's mortifying and there's nothing less supportive or enjoyable an actor being on stage experiencing that.... They're going to get strict now — people will be detected and evicted. I don't want that to happen — that's a horrible way to police what is a wonderful thing."
But the way the production is being polished in front of a full-price paying audience is raising other, broader issues. As a Guardian reader Wendy Bradley put it in a 'comment is free' feature on the paper's website, "Director John Tiffany’s argument over the weekend that you shouldn’t judge a play until press night had me digging out my tickets. I bought four tickets for 18 August at £85 each... Nothing on them indicates they are a preview ticket, and the Barbican website says the production runs from 5 August to 31 October; not 25 August until 31 October with a three-week 'preview' period. Maybe I missed the detail in the rush to get to the front of the queue to buy them, and it wouldn’t have made a difference if I had known they were 'preview' tickets. But aren’t preview tickets usually, you know, cheap?"
Broadway critic and commentator Jeremy Gerard and Jujamcyn's Jordan Roth, writing on Deadline.com, debated the fact that critics from three major papers had rushed to judgment after the first preview, with Roth pointing out, "If a show is a major hotly-anticipated event as this is, I understand covering the first performance as news with those great stories of people traveling from the other side of the world to be there, but I don’t understand reviewing it. Given that the artists are continuing to rework and refine, what’s the point of a review that’s out of date as soon as it runs? Would a restaurant critic sneak into the kitchen, take a spoonful of soup off the stove and print that it needs more seasoning? And if she did, how would that be indicative of what that chef is capable of and how would that help readers decide if they wanted to eat there?"
One of the critics who broke the embargo was Dominic Cavendish of the Daily Telegraph seems to agree with Roth in his opening paragraph, but then offered a weird defence: "Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge a production by its first preview. In the case of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet, though, the pressure to deliver a verdict at lightning-speed is intense, and in a sense he only has himself to blame." Huh? That's a bit like saying a molested woman only has herself to blame for dressing too provocatively.
Theatre Poster censured for causing distress on London Tube The producers of an immersive theatrical zombie show The Generation of Z: Apocalypse that recently ran in London have been officially censured for their promotional material that appeared on the London tube network. The Advertising Standards Authority, which polices the suitability of public advertising in the U.K, had received two complaints about the poster, stating that they were not suitable in an "untargeted medium" where children could see them.
The ASA agreed that they could cause "distress" to younger children, and that the poster therefore breached the code in relation to social responsibility. The ASA also informed the producers to ensure its "marketing was responsibly targeted."
This follows a controversy in May, reported here, when posters for the play Bad Jews were similarly withdrawn on the London underground. A single complaint had been filed with the ASA, who dismissed it, but Transport for London banned them, giving no official reason for doing so.
Opening this Week: Going Baa
- It's a quiet week in London for new shows (apart from the noise being generated by Hamlet), as the arts focus turns towards the now-running Edinburgh Festival. But one production that sounds like the sort of stunt you'd get up there gets reprised in London this week: King Lear with Sheep is a version of Shakespeare's play starring one man and nine sheep, opening August 13 at Hoxton's Courtyard Theatre. Featuring a mix of Shetland sheep, Suffolk crosses and a curly horned Whitefaced Woodland from Vauxhall City Farm, they play the Shakespearean cast, and the single human actor is the harried director trying but failing to put on a production of King Lear.
- Beyond London, the stage version of Priscilla Queen of the Desert — seen in Australia, the West End and on Broadway — is revived for a regional tour, kicking off at Manchester's Opera House from July 14, with a cast led by former pop stars: Duncan James (formerly of Blue, who previously starred in the West End in Legally Blonde stars as Tick for dates up to Sept.– 26, and is then succeeded by Jason Donovan (who played the role in the show's West End premiere) for dates from September 28 to October 31. Thereafter, they alternate.
- The most distressing story of the week was the tragic death of 38-year-old dancer Jonathan Olliver in a motorbike accident on the same day that he was due to dance the lead in the final London performance of Matthew Bourne's The Car Man at Sadler's Wells, which was duly canceled. Olliver, who also starred in a U.K tour of the stage version of Dirty Dancing, has previously also danced the Swan in Bourne's production of Swan Lake. In a tribute, Bourne said, "A man of great warmth and charm, Jonny was a true gent, loved and respected by his colleagues and adored by audiences who were mesmerised by his memorable performances on stage."
- Kinky Boots, scripted by Harvey Fierstein, opens in the West End Sept. 15 — and the very next night his 2014 play Casa Valentina is to receive its UK premiere at Southwark Playhouse.
- The West End is to have 80 world premieres of new musicals in a row: Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, which has previously played West End one-nighters and fringe and festival runs, is to have its first full West End run, Sept. 24 to Nov. 29 at the Apollo Theatre. Nightly the company creates a real musical from scratch— not just an improv night with songs, but a full story with stories and characters, a live band, and spontaneous choreography.
- Stardust Road, a musical celebration of the work of Hoagy Carmichael that was being produced by his son Hoagy B Carmichael, that was to receive its world premiere at London's St James at the end of October has been postponed, after financing fell through. It was to have been directed by Broadway's Susan H. Schulman.
- The U.K premiere of Broadway's Xanadu, the 2007 stage version of the cult 1980 film, is to feature Carly Anderson (currently in the West End's Sunny Afternoon), Olivier nominee Alison Jiear (currently in The 3 Little Pigs) and Samuel Edwards (recently Fiyero in Wicked on tour), when it runs at Southwark Playhouse from Oct. 16.
Follow me on Twitter here, @shentonstage, for rolling news updates as they happen! And keep checking the international section of Playbill.com for major stories.