Saturday, 4 July 2009

Listen to what's in the heart of a child


Sorry it's been a little while since I've posted; as always life, work and love seem to get in the way. However, I do have a stash of notes in my book so will try and write those up into coherent blogposts over the next couple of days.

Firstly a slightly ranty one. Consider yourselves warned. Also miniscule foodie content here, foodies await the next post about a lunch with friends at the Ledbury. But for now, time to set a few things straight.

A couple of weeks back now, I was looking through my much neglected LiveJournal account; now only used for Broadway secrets, but still a vital part of my week, when I found a link to this.

A letter from the producers of Spring Awakening London, explaining the problems they as a team had with gaining exposure. To say I was outraged is an understatement. I had, shortly after the closing weekend, drafted up a post lambasting the lack of work done on media coverage, stating that with some relatively standard coverage on daytime telly the profile of the cast and show could easily have been raised, and hopefully the issues regarding ticket sales erased.

As a regular theatre-goer I was furious, that insipid reviews from people who had clearly set out with an agenda titled "Things about this show I will hate" such as the Daily Mail could affect something I felt so strongly about in such a hideous way. With the exception of the review from the Daily Mail, (as I routinely base my life and values on ignoring pretty much everything they print) every review in every paper I read gave the production glowing praise, gave the cast and creative team the same, could see the love and passion that went into every night.

I did see the references to Spring as a "teen musical" and also reviews that picked up on the recurrent themes being primarily depression, suicide and angst. What I didn't realise was that without any other media representation this was all that people would see. Stupid of me I understand, but I don't general read reviews with an eye to the media strategy the production team need to employ.

And as for other media representation, well as far as I'm concerned the British media should be ashamed of itself. To refuse to have the show on, to try to pretend it doesn't exist? Why? I always smirked when I read about the Broadway production performing on chat shows and having to censor the lyrics, or choreography so as not to distance the demographic of "middle America" It was with shame that I read that the British media were worse, they wouldn't even condone the idea of showing what a young and talented cast were capable of.

Ironically of course all of this just underlined and reinforced what Wedekind's play and our much beloved adaptation was trying to tell us. Like Wendla's mother, if the media can and do dictate what the young people of this country are exposed to, what they know, then ultimately they like Wedekind's young protagonists merely set those young people on a road where a lack of knowledge and understanding limits them, affects their choices and heaps consequences upon them. Now far be it for me to suggest by refusing to entertain the idea of showing some young and talented actors singing on your television programmes that others will ultimately get pregnant, suffer with depression and maybe even die, but I don't think denying the existence of a musical to the ends where it is forced to close are in anyone's best interest. I'm not naive, and understand that like anything Spring Awakening was always going to face problems having opened at a time of recession and would probably have only ever had a limited lifetime in the West End. However what does make me furious is the fact that 100 metres away a revival of a nineties production of Oliver! is selling enough seats to stay open purely because it appealed to the lowest common denominator of reality television casting, throwing integrity out of the window as it did. Less than half a mile the production of Joseph that did the same (but with an eighties production) ran for over 18 months.

Spring Awakening is a musical, is even 'just' a musical but for many people it was much more, for many people it spoke to them about things that they don't even tell their families or best friends about. And for many of those people who are young and troubled it opened a door, provided a lifeline to them at a time of need. One of the earliest interviews I read with the cast had Charlotte Wakefield who played Wendla mentioning that someone at stage door said that they had gone through a similar experience to her character, and that she was incredibly humbled by that reality, the fact that it's not just a 'play from the past'. We have the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Europe in this country, a huge problem with youth integration, more and more young people suffering from mental illnesses and something comes along that provides a way into those conversations, those taboos, and the middle aged, middle class, white men that control the media prevent it from gaining the recognition and audience it deserved. Tempting as it is to write Shame on you! SHAME. ON. YOU. I won't (well I have, but we'll skip over that) but I do wonder if they're proud of themselves, if they understand the impact their actions had on a relatively large group of people. People who don't believe in violent protest, but took to the streets and sang, with a man who had an acoustic guitar, sang through the score with the cast and other audience members. I have been going to the theatre monthly since the age of 16, and never have I seen this type of action. Never had I seen such a mixed group come together and work together. Instead of denying its existence, ignoring it - why not embrace it, have the cast on to talk to Jonathan Ross, to Paul O'Grady, even to Alan Titchmarsh. Then people would not only have a paper review talking about sex and death and abortions, but also the voices of the cast rising above that. Lucy Barkers soulful tones asking us to:

"Listen to what's in the heart of a child.
A song so sweet from one so small.
Soon you will hear where beauty lies.
You'll hear and you'll recall.
The sadness, the doubt, the loss, the grief
that belongs to a play from the past.
Still the child leads the way with a dream, a belief.
A sign of hope through the land..."


Which if you have even half an ear that appreciates music, you will love. I just think that Spring Awakening should have been given a chance to compete in the West End, should have been at least allowed the coverage that Hairspray, Priscilla, Sister Act, Wicked et al get on a regular basis and then see how ticket sales fared.

1 comment:

Kate said...

thank you for this. It's so good to hear other people with the same views!! The last night of the show was, as you say, something i have never encountered before, and that experience will live with me forever.

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