Saturday, 30 April 2016

Half an hour with "Funny Girl", 28/4/16, Savoy Theatre, London

Following its sold out (in 90 minutes!) run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, "Funny Girl" transferred to the West End's Savoy Theatre in a slightly expanded production. Starring Sheridan Smith, whose name is emblazoned above the title on every advertising board going, the West End production is also very nearly sold out.
Booking a ticket early was essential and this was done last November (the transfer was announced before the Menier run had actually begun) so the wait was a long one. But, only one week following its opening night, the day finally came. Much preparation and cost had gone into seeing the first revival since the original London production back in the 1960s which was the sole purpose of our visit to London. We had to finance the cost of travel to and from London, accommodation for the night whilst there and, of course, the tickets themselves. I absolutely refuse to pay "premium" prices since the very idea is nothing less than a con by money-hungry producers. None the less the cost was not cheap!

So it was we got into London with enough time to check into our hotel and grab a bite to eat before we headed off to the Savoy.
Let me say now that the theatre staff were far more welcoming to us than they had been a year before when we visited the same theatre to see the revival of "Gypsy".
It was interesting to see the variety of merchandise available for the show - t-shirts, mugs, umbrellas, bags etc. Yet "Funny Girl" still had no souvenir brochure on offer!

We settled into our dress circle seats with a great view of the stage with much anticipation.
The lights dimmed and the 13-player orchestra (complete with strings!) struck up with the Overture. The presence of the strings was most welcome, even if the sound remained a little thin.
Smith appeared as "Fanny Brice" and the show started proper. Smith gave Brice a pronounced Bronx accent which appeared to limit her diction somewhat with quite a number of words muffled. This accent also seemed to interfere with her singing which was curt and not always in tune. For certain the final note of "The Greatest Star" was off, yet quite flawless in the brief reprise that soon followed. Smith was certainly amusing in the role, although not outright hilarious, and she was given to acting more like a desperate idiot out for attention (even being rather sexual with some of the male dancers - let's be frank; she was groping their crotches!) rather than a natural comedienne letting her talent speak for her. Given I was not a natural fan of Smith (unlike many I had come for the show) I was actually starting to warm to her and, flaws and all, she was certainly proving that "Funny Girl" need not rely on the spectre of Barbra Streisand.    
The rest of the cast were quite ebullient in their roles but we were sadly given little time to appreciate them as, following Fanny's stage debut with the "Cornet Man" number (another somewhat slogged performance from Smith), immediately following Fanny's introduction to "Nick Arnstein" (a dashing Darius Campbell) and her singing of the twiddly "Nicky Arnstein" lines when the stage was emptied (apparently a simple exit as per usual) when the show suddenly stopped. There was a dead stage for a minute before an announcement was made over the speakers: A technical issue had prompted a brief delay. The safety curtain was lowered.
After 10 minutes or so the front of house manager made an announcement that the delay was taking longer than expected so patrons were free to use the lavatories and bars. 
Audience members became restless not long after and there were some confrontations with the front of house staff. Some irate man was shouting at the young woman at the coat check/merchandise stand. Approximately 30 minutes later the dreaded announcement was made that due to "Technical Difficulties" the show had to be cancelled. This was greeted by boos and jeers from various factions in the audience, some of whom shouted "no! no!" when the front of house manager advised that the box office should be contacted the following day for refunds as it had been closed for the evening. His brief speech was previously interrupted by noisy, talkative audience members which prompted other patrons to shout at them to "shut up!" so the f-o-h manager could be heard. 
Frankly it was bordering on chaos, but the Savoy Theatre staff were nothing but courteous and as helpful as their limited information allowed.

Given the apparent technical naivety of the production it was instantly puzzling as to what technical problem could have caused such an issue as to prompt the show's cancellation. Almost immediately rumours began circling that the issue was perhaps more to do with Smith herself and the media soon started commenting on these rumours.
It is unfortunate that the producers have allowed the very vague term "technical difficulties" to persist when a more exact explanation might have put paid to the rumours before they started.

It is, of course, greatly disappointing when a show is cancelled only half an hour into a performance as it's too short a notice in order to make other plans. It is also annoying when such efforts and costs have gone into a trip whose sole purpose was to visit the production. 
That said, it is always possible that technical issues can happen. Likewise it is always possible that a headlining star may have to pull out of a performance due to illness or other unforeseen circumstances (as was the case in the ENO's production of "Sunset Boulevard" that starred Glenn Close) and people are only human, after all.
I'd like to think that the rumours about Smith are only that and nothing more and that it was indeed a technical issue - whatever that may be - that prompted the unfortunate cancellation.
What adds salt to the wound is that some ticket vendors have been rather unhelpful in assisting affected audience members in obtaining refunds or exchanging the tickets (and given the limited number of tickets remaining this is an anxious issue for some) to the point where telephone lines have been extinguished.

A most unpleasant experience all told.

UPDATE 2/5/16:
There have been reports in the press regarding the alleged behaviour of Sheridan Smith at this particular performance and, if they were found to be true (which could possibly be substantiated by the various reports Stage Managers and Company Managers keep), it would prove to be a most upsetting turn of events. I can forgive a true "technical difficulty" but if a "star" is being disrespectful not only to her fellow cast members but also to the orchestra, crew and theatre staff - not to mention the PAYING AUDIENCE - then it is deeply disturbing and I sincerely believe that the producers, if the reports are indeed true, have a duty to provide every audience member with compensation.
It was bad enough trying to deal with the ticket vendors (in this case Ambassador Theatre Group) whose procedures and staff made the process a vexing experience and also a time consuming one.

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