Last night I had my first night back in the theatre after a two week(ish) hiatus. Apart from when I was away doing West Side Story,* those two weeks were the longest I’ve been without theatre in a long time. I had been starved of my usual fix and, I think, because of this Wednesday’s viewing of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at the Royal Opera House was all the more incredible (although any trip to the ROH is always inspiring). This has led me to think, in my pensive ways, if it’s possible to overdose on theatre. Do I go too much? Has the enjoyment of each visit been reduced because it has just become ‘the norm’? Will I be better off to go less frequently? I know that my bank balance, lack of sleep and social calendar would be relieved if I did. Somehow I can’t seem to agree.

*Even then I snuck to London one evening to see ‘The Ladykillers’. I just can’t help myself.

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A recent Facebook status in which…well…you get the drift. A normal three week timetable in the life of me.

Last week I substituted a theatre trip for a visit to the cinema. Granted, it was to go and see the Digital Theatre screening of ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ – I still count that as an alternative – but it didn’t hit the T (theatre) spot. Now, I could write an essay on the pros and cons of filmed plays/musicals but no one wants to read that and it simply boils down to the conclusion that what you see on film doesn’t do justice to the live version. I’d trade 10 (if not 100 – whilst I’m being dramatic) cinema viewings of Merrily for the one experience I had when I saw it at the Menier Chocolate Factory. You may also remember that I spoke in a previous blog about the fact that I love theatre because it is transient and I just think capturing it on a camera kills that. I think transience is what makes theatre addictive. It is only a passing moment between the audience and the actor and then it is gone – if you miss it then you miss out. If you don’t go to the theatre constantly then you are constantly missing out. Am I right or am I right!?

Whoa there, crazy Ridout. With that argument you could also say that unless you see every show playing in town every night then you are missing out on each brilliant, transient, performance. We all know that that is impossible so maybe I should just give myself a break and be selective. I (and you) should be able to see something just because I want to see it, not through fear of missing something. 

Okay, so if I’m being selective (which I think I am already) should I cut down on the amount I see? The danger with seeing so much theatre is that the level that I now see as ‘good’ theatre is actually, by most people’s standards, pretty bloody impressive. I have seen some incredible pieces this year: Othello at the National, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime at the Apollo, The Color Purple at the Menier, Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier, A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe, Liza Minnelli at the Royal Festival Hall, Patti LuPone at the Leicester Square Theatre…to name but a few. It’s safe to say I have been well and truly spoilt. Amongst these beacons of theatrical hope I have also seen drama school productions, fringe, regional and even home grown amateur group theatre. When the long list above becomes my normal theatrical viewing then how can I sit back and enjoy all theatre in the same way? The answer is: I can’t. I don’t know how critics do it. I find it very hard to sit back and weigh up the circumstances of what I am watching (eg. how big the budget is, how long they rehearsed, are they being paid?) and view it for what it is. I just have a huge comparison chart whereby so much fantastic theatre ends up in the ‘I enjoyed it’ pile when really it deserves so much more than that. So I shouldn’t go as often? Simple. However, if I didn’t go as often as I do I would have missed some of those ‘theatrical beacons’ and, indeed, some of the incredible pieces I have seen off the beaten theatrical track this year.

It would seem that I do have a problem. I would like to stress though that there is one specific kind of theatre addict that I am not. That is the ‘serial show see-er’. Sure, I’ve seen a few shows a couple of times but never* the same cast twice and never an amount of times that would shock you (I have some friends that have seen shows enough times that make even my jaw drop upon hearing the number). I guess my transience argument could come back and bite me here by saying that no two performances will be the same so what is the harm in going for multiple visits? I think the harm comes when you can no longer distinguish one specific performance from the next. If you saw Rachel Tucker in Wicked 6 times but couldn’t tell me which time she did what riff in Defying Gravity (hats off to you if you can) then you’ve lost a bit of the magic. Your memories of the experience become generic and that is when I think you’ve overdosed on theatre. I may have seen a lot, but if you ask me I could tell you something specific that I remember from each production – no matter how low-key.

*well, seriously, very few.

So do I overdose on theatre? It is true that I am harder to please because I see so much but that just goes to show that I am seeing a lot of high quality productions. That is surely a great big “Yay!” for the industry. Keep going Rids, keep going! Oh well, if I must. It would appear that there is no solution to this vicious circle whereby I spend all my time in red velvet seats. I guess I’ll have to try and make my theatre trips feel more special by treating myself to the odd ice cream or G&T. On that note, I’m off to the Arts Educational School to see their production of Stiles and Drewe’s ‘Soho Cinders’ – maybe I’ll get myself a gin!

Happy frequent theatre visits!

“Come on guys enough hesitating, can’t you see your carriage is waiting…” – a bit of Soho Cinders there. “You shall go to the ball Cinderella” has been substituted in my mind for “You shall sit in the stalls please Rebecca”…I like it.

– Rebecca Ridout