Sunday, 13 May 2007

Regional Audiences

I don’t actually mean regional audiences; I actually mean Chichester and Stratford-Upon-Avon audiences and the towns themselves.

When I’m in Sheffield, Leeds or Manchester (not to mention the sublimely civilised Edinburgh) for a play or several I’m in good hands, I’m generally able to eat and drink in reasonable places at reasonable times. Nice cities each and every one- ‘regeneration’ I believe it’s called.

Not so in the august towns of Stratford and Chichester. At least Chichester is not claming to be the centre of the universe; it’s basically a tidy, small, quiet town. But Stratford is constantly ram packed with tourists wanting to see where the great man lived and died. Frankly when I meet tourists in London I tell them to avoid Stratford like the plague, unless they are actually seeing a show. There a far more pleasing, important and interesting things to do in London than in Stratford, where you’ll probably end up in M&S or eating Greggs sandwiches with a million other visitors on the crowded river bank. But, heaven forbid, you should want a meal after the show! Very few restaurants are open then. And if you need a bottle of water to take back to your hotel room there is nowhere to purchase it. Is this just a jaded London lad complaining about regional inadequacies, maybe. But I do genuinely think one of our biggest tourist attractions should pull its socks up and start being a bit more attractive. The best thing about Stratford is basically the RSC, and more specifically the actors. A night post play at The Dirty Duck listening to their conversations is great fun.

Anyway, back to the subject of my rant; audiences. In Chichester I am usually the youngest person present by at least 40 years (bar the occasional Tristan dragged there by mater and pater). But honestly, with their conservative programming by Jonathan Church, will they ever attract a younger crowd (though I do understand Church is protecting the short term future of the theatre with conservative choices)? Plus I generally find audiences there so pleased with themselves, braying and far more obnoxious than your average London crowd. Also they all drive, try walking out of the Festival Theatre into the town after a show, you simply can’t cross the road because of the stream of traffic (‘polite’ rich elderly people do not let pedestrians cross the road, contrary to popular belief).

As for Stratford, again the grey hair brigade is out in force (by the way, I have nothing against those with grey hair, I just wish that younger and less affluent people were also in the audience. Plus, without the grey hair brigade the economy of the theatre would be shot, so thanks to them). But this time you have to beware of lethal danger; the talkative American student. They come by the busload and make ostentatious notes, and many can’t resist giving out those little nuggets of psychoanalysis during the show (or even clarifying the plot). Yes, you understand Shakespeare, well done!

Wherever I go I am sensitive to the mood of the audience, sometimes with the cast, and some more lethargic or even sceptical. But being privileged enough to be part of the audience so regularly I wouldn’t change it for the world!

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