Tim Walker in the Telegraph has written one of the most objectionably snobbish pieces I have read about the theatre in a long time. This may have something to do with the fact that I tend to avoid the Telegraph like the plague, but still. (You can read his piece here if you are of a masochistic bent, but choice quotes from it will appear below). He claims that Tennant’s casting as Hamlet was a blatant piece of ‘celebrity casting’. Fair enough, Tennant is a celebrity. The point that Walker resolutely misses is that the reason Tennant was cast as The Doctor is that he is a very good actor. Hence his casting as Hamlet. The RSC want good actors, Tennant is a good actor. In fact, his Hamlet was the best I have ever seen, and one of the best shows overall that I’ve seen in a long time. The fact that people wanted to see the play purely because ‘Dr. Who’ was in it shows a smallness of mind on their part, but good for the RSC for sticking to their ‘no refund’ policy in support of their well-rehearsed understudies. Ed Bennett was, by all accounts, very good, if lacking the exuberance and speed of Tennant’s Prince.
Walker suggests that “theatre managers, when they pick a major television celebrity to appear in a play, draw people into their establishments who are likely not enjoy the experience”. This implies that it is impossible to enjoy both Dr. Who and Shakespeare. Nice work, Tim. Keep the television-watching riff-raff out of theatres. He continues that Dr. Who fans in the theatre “didn’t get so much as a “sorry” from the man [Director Greg Doran], or, indeed, any prospect of a refund”, but why should they? The RSC has a well-established understudy policy, and it is commendable that the cast were well rehearsed enough for Ed Bennett to step into such big shoes at such short notice. I went to see Hamlet on the 3rd of January, and when we bought tickets at 10a.m posters were up all around the box office saying that due to back injury, David Tennant had had to pull out, and it then listed the three undrstudies who moved up accoridngly (Hamlet’s, Laertes’s and Guildenstern’s). Nevertheless, I was excited and pleased to be able to get tickets so easily. When The Producer came on stage just before the house lights went down, and annopunced that Tennant was back, the whole place went crazy. While feeling suitably smug that we were able to move into plum seats that had been ostracised by people wanting to see Tennant (I presume, maybe they had Noro…), I also felt really quite sorry for Ed Bennett, waiting backstage and hearing the screams of joy that he would no longer be the Prince. I would have liked to have seen him play Hamlet, but he was a superb Laertes, and good luck to him.
The most objectionable part of Walker’s article was his assertion that: “Doran seemed to expect these people, not one of them a natural theatregoer so far as I could see, to sit through almost four hours of Shakespeare without so much as a glimpse of their hero”. By “these people” he means Dr. Who fans, but I’d like to know exactly he means by “not one of them a natural theatregoer as far as I could see”? How can he possibly tell? What does a ‘natural theatregoer’ look like? White, middle-class, well-dressed? I’m white and middle class but I went in jeans and borrowed gloves. Would I pass Walker’s narrow-minded and rather bigoted test to be seen as a ‘natural’? Now, I would argue that almost four hours of Shakespeare is a treat devoutly to be wished, especially if you have managed to sneak into comfy, dress circle seats, but I can understand that not everyone agrees with me. Fine. That does not make them any less of a ‘natural’ theatregoer – you don’t know what you like until you try it. Technially speaking, I am a ‘natural’ oper-goer, in that I’m from a middle-class background, have the money to afford the occasional ticket and have training in classical music. However, I’d rather see Shakespeare any day. I wonder if Walker’s antenae could detect that? The problem here is that, unfortunately, “as far as I could see” in Walker’s case, is not terribly far.