Monday, 21 May 2007

Thoughts: Youngsters on the fringe; Islington Curry and a rusbbish market; Sexing up of cinema trailers

Young at Heart

The press, the theatre part of it anyway, has had quite a lot to say about age recently. And whilst I don’t think age is the be all and end all, getting young people into the theatre is vitally important to the future health of our beloved theatre, we can all agree on that right?

We’re often told about the demise of the West End, but that never happens, in fact each year recently has seen record attendances. The average age at many WE shows is middle aged to say the least, but some shows, like Avenue Q for example, clearly buck that trend.But more interesting to me is what is happening outside of the West End. The fringe in London (and the regional stage to some extent) is booming, bigger than ever before, and from what I have seen over the last few years, packed with enthusiastic young people, keen to experience the live arts.

But this weekend I has such a youthful theatregoing experience, it stands out in my mind. At the Soho at 4pm on Saturday at least 70% of the audience were younger than 35, that’s just an estimate, it could be more. Young and old alike were held for two hours by Philip Ridley’s Leaves of Glass; no one left, went to the toilet or talked. They sat and watched a serious and sometimes brutal play about suicide, mental fragility and child abuse, but in no way sensationalist or tacky. Who says young people are idiots with the attention span of a goldfish?

Then in the evening to The Old Red Lion theatre pub in Islington. Here a crazily young crowed had gathered to see the two short plays, many of them were much younger than me (I was 25 a month ago), teenaged girls in short dresses and studiously scruffy twenty something males were in the majority. This throng literally packed out the blazing hot and tiny auditorium, I heard the house manager (or fringe equivalent) saying that they had 7 or more extra people queuing to get in (I think they did manage to squeeze them all in- don’t tell Islington Council).

The night before at the Almeida for Big White Fog, there were even a few young people in the normally very white very middle class very middle aged audience (there were quite a few black people present too, as Big White Fog is a black American play).

The clear message from all this is, that there is an appetite for theatre amongst young people, you don’t have to dumb down to get them through your doors, just put good (appealing and relevant) stuff on. My only concern is that the theatre is still not accessible for a whole section of the population, young and old, because they fell it is not for them (when it is, or should be). This must be tackled through education and theatre trips for all school children. This is essential and not a luxury.

Overall though, the health of the fringe (and the commercial sector, there is symbiosis) is so exciting, and a very hopeful for the future of legit theatre in the UK (new writing especially, a theatre scene comprising only of classics is dead).

Islington Curry, rubbish market

On Saturday, between a Soho theatre matinee and an 8.45 show at The Old Red Lion, I took my repose, as I often do when I have the time, at The Indian Veg Bhelpoori House on Chapel Market.

This is a unique place, not for being vegetarian, there a plenty of those (Drummond St near Euston has some good ones), but because this is a £3.50 buffet, all day, every day (I remember when it was £2.99, the good old days). The food is hearty and good, not great mind you, but good. I can’t eat much at the moment, due to a recent operation, but being a veggie place I managed a few spoons of saucy and soft things, which were very nice. The décor is working men’s café style, simple and old fashioned, with pictures of the various beauty queens who have eaten here (seriously, beauty queens) and tracts praising the health of vegetarianism (half the food here is fried!). The staff are friendly, but leave you alone, and the atmosphere is great. I sat for a couple of hours reading my papers, writing, eating a tiny piece of papadum and mostly listening to the fascinating conversations of the other customers.

It is also fascinating to walk down Chapel Market, a very vibrant street market in Islington. It’s a bit like my own local (born and bread) Shepherds Bush Market, except even cheaper. If you go there after the market has finished, and before the evening clean up you see an awesome sight; lots of rubbish. People clearing away the last bits and bobs off their stalls, road sweepers chatting to each other, poor old ladies looking through the discarded fruit boxes to salvage anything edible. Between the Indian buffet, the street market and the Old Red Lion pub, all human life is here.

Sexed Up Cinema?

On Sunday to Shepherds Bush Vue (that’s cinema to you and me) for Zodiac, the new film from David Fincher (Fight Club being my fav of his films so far). Based on a book about the still unsolved Zodiac murders in the San Francisco area in the late 60’s to early 70’s, it’s a pretty gripping two and a half hours of detective work. I really enjoyed it, the ensemble cast were brilliant (Mark Ruffalo as a Columbo-ish detective and Jake Gyllenhaal as a nerdy newspaper cartoonist cum detective were outstanding). Out very own Brian Cox also makes a brief appearance as a media savvy lawyer, how does he get time to do plays; he’s just in so many films?

But the thing that interested me was the reaction the rest of the audience had to the film. It was a packed screening, this is unusual for a non blockbuster (Spider Man level of blockbuster) in my area, as we have plenty of cinemas and choice and the film had been on several times already that day. Obviously this is a mainstream Hollywood film, but not a popcorn flick. But it was clear that many of the audience didn’t like the film, the people next to me were nearly asleep, there was much muttering, extended toilet breaks etc, and afterwards I could hear people saying ‘it’s crap’ etc. I think the problem is, that having seen the trailer, the film looks like a conventional serial killer flick with a handsome central hero. The fact that this is an investigative film, with no solid conclusion (the case is still unsolved) and an ensemble cast was not what many people were expecting. If they’d know I’m sure many would have chosen less demanding, and shorter, films for their Sunday night.

I have noticed this tendency to ‘sex up’ film trailers. I think sometimes the same kind of sleight of hand misrepresentation sometimes even happens in the theatre…..

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