Critics not pretty in pink

The producers are staggering the Press nights of the musical Legally Blonde at the Savoy Theatre, with an embargo on reviews until Thursday — although the show has been running since the first week of December — in order, they say, for the critics to experience the show with a “real” or “normal” audience.

I went on Saturday night and I’ve never sat in an audience so unreal or abnormal. Weird couples, clacking hen parties, simpering teenage girls: it was like being stuck in a nightmare college campus graduation ceremony.

And of course, worse thing of all, plonked in the middle of a row for the routine, undeserved standing ovation that I would have cheerfully exchanged for having my teeth extracted with a pair of garden pliers.

The whole business of manipulating the critical coverage to this extent is only to do with fear of the truth getting out. Our Whatsonstage.com theatre goers outing last week already give a good idea of what to expect, even if you haven’t seen the film.

And today’s Guardian keeps up the supine Press campaign by headlining a page seven story: “Camp, frothy and a sell-out: a musical hit before it opens.” Can’t wait to see what Michael Billington thinks.

Nestled in the Guardian story is the muted news that the show was a flop on Broadway. Here, the film, which is a cute little cult, has guaranteed a strange explosion on Facebook, making sure the critics are totally by-passed in getting the news to the people most likely to want to see the musical. Fair enough, but I think this means the embargo is in tatters and should be ignored, asap.

The Daily Telegraph, anyway, informed its readers on Saturday that the reviews will appear on Wednesday. Come on, chaps, we can do better than that: let’s start reading some proper critical writing tomorrow, before the Strand turns completely pink and we’re overrun with silly blonde girls carrying chihuahuas in their handbags.

We urgently need some answers to the questions: why doesn’t the big ugly boxer dog eat the ruddy chihuahua? Why is Sheridan Smith wearing not one, but two, hideous blonde wigs? Why is Duncan James of Blue playing the wrong role? And whoever thought the perfect film script — it’s an absolute gem of cynically assembled construction and wit — would transfer to the very different demands of a musical theatre libretto?

I look forward to finding out the answers, perhaps even supplying some of them, when we’re “allowed” to publish reviews.

But people should know that newspapers have been collaborating in a cover-up for too long and that “arts reporting” is taking the success of the show on trust and printing box office revenue figures — is it £1.5m or £2m? — without any means of verification.

The loser in the end of this sorry mess will be the theatre itself: for by Thursday, no news editor will want the show given any more prominence on the news pages, and the reviews — positive and negative — will be hidden away at the back of the paper on the arts pages.

Finally, the producers will say, who cares anyway what the critics say? The show’s not for them.

And on this, at least, they might very well be correct. Another question, though: do producers want a healthy critical climate or a hysterical blogosphere? Two answers to that one: both please, and they don’t care. They want to make money.     

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