We went to see Peter Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow at Trafalgar Studios last night. It tells the story of Judy Garland’s last few months. The West End Whingers saw in back in November and their review is here – It’s an amazing performance by Tracie Bennett as Garland, and Hilton McRae nails the other sympathetic part.
The first half, however, was undermined by the person in front of us. Why did they need to check their emails every time there was a song? Why did the person next to them have lean over and thumb their icons? Why not watch the bloody show? Bod know what it’s like from the stage. Just as you’re going for the big number a face amongst the multitude lights up, illuminated by their own idiot biscuit. But they’re not looking at you. They’re checking their latest marketing missive from Apple Store. Can’t it wait?
Being in an audience can be a great experience. When they ‘go’ together it’s an amazing buzz. It’s one of the things I love about writing for the theatre – trying to write (i.e. leave space for) the audience’s part. It’s about generating a here and now that is irresistible. But it’s easily undermined.
We used to worry about coughers and crisp eaters. Millions were spent developing the theatrical cough drop and the silent Pringle. But now it’s texters and tweeters who are the greatest threat to the communal moment.
I have an idea. I’d been developing it to solve another seemingly intractable problem: the whole latecomers, knee rubbing, “sorry”, “thank you” charade of getting to a seat in the middle of a row. The invention is commercially sensitive so I can’t say too much. But if you’ve ever tried to win a cuddly Homer Simpson from one of those claw machines in an amusement arcade, you’ll have some idea of where I’m coming from.
Once this technology is in place it should be easy to spot miscreants as they light up their blackcurrants. From there it’s an easy step to pluck them from their place with minimal disruption to their neighbours’ theatregoing communion and gently land them in a safe place away from the auditorium, probably unaware that anything has happened. The technology is not ready to go live yet – decapitation is still an issue – but I’m sure it will come.
Anyway. For the second half we circumvented the problem: we moved seats. The experience was much better. The scene where Anthony (McRae) tries to sell life in Brighton is charming and heart breaking. The play then seems to clunk to a halt with some narration, but there is a coda. And something magical happens. Tracie Bennett seems, for a moment, to channel Judy Garland. The whole audience is as one – we get it. We’re delighted, moved, even slightly embarrassed that we let ourselves be carried away. It’s what you always hope for when you go to the theatre, but it’s rare.