The Week in Performing Arts - 22/2/12

Ever heard of PostSecret? It’s a website where anonymous people around the globe can send in a secret of theirs written on a postcard. If you haven’t heard of it, look it up. But something along the same lines is happening in theatre. Uninvited Guests, a three-person theatre company, plays with not site-specific drama, but date-specific. The show you see depends on the audience you see it with, the strangers around you that fill the auditorium. And Uninvited Guests really are filling their auditoriums. In their newest play, Make Better Please, the audience are invited to read the daily newspapers and pick out stories that affect them in some way – whether to make them sad, or that interest them, or that make them angry – and this information is then collated into a show. Paul Clarke, one of the Guests, describes their theatre as ‘user-generated’. This is audience interaction at a whole new level; almost like comedy in its improvisatory use of that particular night’s audience. Make Better Please is at the Parabola Arts Centre in Cheltenham from the 24th to 25th February, then touring.

Why is ballet finding it so hard to hold onto its stars? After Sergei Polunin left the Royal Ballet unexpectedly last month, English National Ballet’s artistic director Wayne Eagling is also set to leave at the end of August, after holding the post for seven years. Eagling gives no reasons for his departure.

©Jessica Duchen

Speaking of which, Polunin has legally lost his right to work in the UK, as his permit was dependent on his employment with the Royal Ballet. Having resigned, Polunin is now officially required to leave the UK if he wants to find work. Having been cast as one of the Royal Ballet’s principals at the incredibly young age of only 19, it was a shock to the ballet world when he threw away his early success. He has spoken about how ballet stars are treated and the restrictions and ‘enormous pressure’ placed on them, suggesting that he will possibly leave ballet altogether.

Musicals that before have only had an avid following in the West End are now coming to the big screen. Glee has made musical theatre mainstream, and savvy producers are latching onto this trend to bring shows that would previously have only been seen in Broadway or London into cinemas nationwide. An illustrious cast list accompanies Les Misèrables, due for release this December, including Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Anne Hathaway as Fantine, Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe as villainous policeman Javert. Also coming up are Into The Woods (York's very own Central Hall Musical Society predicted this, and pipped it to the post, naturally) and Annie, starring everyone’s favourite hair-whipper, Willow Smith, in the title role.

Popular playwrights Simon Stephens, Sir David Hare and Mark Ravenhill have voiced concerns that artistic directors are playing it too safe in theatre’s current climate. Theatre commissioned nowadays is restricted to popular musicals and comedies, knowing that these are the genres that will rake in the largest audience. Since the recession, which resulted in huge arts funding cuts, theatres have been keen to earn the difference by producing shows that are not necessarily experimental or new onto the theatre scene, but will certainly help to make a profit. Ravenhill reminisced that directors used to produce plays because ‘they believed in them heart and soul’, not because they would be popular at the box office. Whether the play could transfer to the West End is seen as more important than whether it’s thought-provoking, polemical and new.

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