When does a play open?

This question became urgent this week when my autumn roundup of performing arts events went to press on Thursday evening for Friday's paper. The "fact-checker" (I put it in scare quotes as the title is itself redundant: if something really is a fact, it obviously doesn't need checking) altered many of the dates in my piece. Why did she do this? Because she had checked the theatre websites online, and found that many if not most of them claimed that the play began before the date I had given in my copy.


 Fortunately a very good, alert subeditor (or copy editor) mentioned this to me. Oddly enough, I had anticipated this, and had sent a note about this to the deputy-commissioning editor along with my copy.

         What causes the discrepancies?

         It's simple, really, but it raises a serious ethical problem.

         The theatre websites now routinely include the preview dates in their listings, and show the play's run as from the date of the first preview to the final performance (when that is known). Preview tickets are usually sold at half price, or in any case, are deeply discounted. This is an acknowledgment by the theatre management that the piece is not yet finished; that during the previews the play is still a work in progress. Previews are, in effect, dress rehearsals.

         But times are hard, and no management can afford any longer to use the preview period as a rehearsal period in which friends and families of the cast and crew are allowed in for free. Moreover, having these paid previews gives the company a chance to rehearse while actually generating revenue

         But rehearse they do. Managements are ferocious about not letting us critics see the work until the official press night, which is almost always coincident with the official opening night. At that time tickets are charged as full price, and the management, cast and crew are collectively saying: "We're ready to be seen and judged on our merits."

         Every critic knows of a case where a management has bent the rules for a colleague, and allowed him in a day early so as to catch his deadline (it's happened to me more than once). And everyone knows a case where the show has changed crucially between the last preview and the press night, and improved so substantially that the preview-going critic in effect saw a different production from the rest of us. I don't think I'd be giving away any secrets in saying that this happened very recently in the case of a musical that arrived in London from New York, but with all but two of the cast changed.

         And I have just heard today on BBC Radio 4 a broadcast featuring Blake Morrison talking about his forthcoming play "We Are Three Sisters," which combines the Brontes and Chekhov.  My old colleague Blake concurred with the Bronte specialist who was talking to him that the play had altered direction in rehearsal. I don't know at what stage of rehearsals, and don't imagine it was during the paid previews - but of course this can happen.

         That is why, when writing a signed piece telling readers of my newspaper what plays (and operas - though the question doesn't arise, as there are no opera previews) I think they might like to buy tickets for this autumn, I insist that we do not include the paid preview dates, and give the run as beginning on the official first or press night.  If the theatre does not want me to see a performance because it's not yet ready, it would be wrong of me to recommend that my readers pay (even if it's half-price) to see what is only a work in progress, and not yet the finished piece.

         Don't you agree?

September 9, 2011 12:21 PM | | Comments (0)

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This page contains a single entry by Plain English published on September 9, 2011 12:21 PM.

What I remember about Rupert Brooke was the previous entry in this blog.

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