Thursday, 9 June 2011

I Met A Man Who Wasn't There , White Rock Theatre ,Hastings

I Met A Man Who Wasn't There 

Amanda Schilling (Journalist) - Cathy Shipton
Edgar Ryme (Clairvoyant) - Brian Capron

9-11 June 2011
performance seen 9th June

Or I could rename this I Sat In An Audience Who Weren't There

Now I have sat in some pitifully small audiences lately but this was small to the extent that I am surprised Brian and Cathy went ahead with this. There were 4 of us in the front row followed by row after row of empty seats with just an odd person dotted here and there and a couple of small groups at the back.

If there were as many as 50 people I'd be surprised. It really did seem truly weird sitting in such an empty, cold feeling, auditorium.

I guess it may not be helped that the White Rock Theatre haven't used Twitter for almost 2 months (Twitter ID @The_White_Rock) to keep their followers updated. I honestly don't know how much effect social networking has with putting a few bums on seats but, when it costs zero to do so, surely you try anything?

Other than the price of tickets, I honestly can't fathom why the figures were that appalling. Here are people who I consider to be very fine actors and who are performing for Bruce James Productions who have been respected over many years for staging many popular shows to suit all tastes.

OK there was one recently I didn't enjoy, OK hated actually, but people aren't going to rave over every show they see and to be fair I've still not found a soul who did like it.

I met a man who wasn't there is a totally different kettle of fish. Journalist Amanda Schilling is visiting clairvoyant Edgar Ryme to undertake an interview. Unsurprisingly it's not as simple as that and Schilling gets far more than she bargained for from the very mysterious Ryme. But does Cathy Shipton end up being a casualty? (I know terrible pun) Does she deserves what she gets?

It's a spooky tale with a good balance of humour and drama. The story is believable (especially if you believe in ghosts) and easy to follow. Capron and Shipton deliver the fine performances you would expect.

For me there were just two issues. One is something that happens in so many plays and I hasten to add not specific to James productions. That is that the first half leading the audience to the traditional interval cliffhanger seems very drawn out.

There are plays that can have you gripped from the off, you find yourself just absorbed in proceedings. Indeed my next review will be of a show that is just that. Then there are those, like this one, where it takes quite a while for the 'scene setting' to take place.

My second issue is lack of atmosphere but this was purely down to the lack of audience. I think any play suffers from a lack of viewers and this was no exception. No oooohs, no aaahs , nobody jumping at moments when they are meant to. Between sets you are never quite sure whether to applaud or not because there's a danger somebody might just throw you a fish for your efforts. Then there's laughter  - you laugh at a line and believe you're the only one that did - was it meant to be funny? Do I have a warped sense of humour? Or did the joke just go over the heads of everybody else?

Back to that first half and it showed that the initial build up was failing to hold the attention when from high above the stage a rectangular piece of paper about 2"x1" slowly descended into the auditorium. A slow decent it was indeed because being the shape it was it just rolled over and over and fluttered gently down. It caught my eye, but when it was about half way down I remembered it was not part of the show and looked around and everybody was doing the same. I thought I was bad getting distracted by such a small thing but by sheer fluke it landed at the feet of one of the few audience members. Clearly the temptation to look at it outweighed the onstage action as she bent down to pick it up and examined it.

I know I laughed at this point. Here we are watching a ghost story involving clairvoyancy and I had to wonder if she was expecting a message from the other side?

Anyway, the few of us that were there got back to reality. Once you know who's who and Schilling's and Ryme's backgrounds have been explained this is actually an extremely enjoyable drama. As with all similar tales things are never what they seem with the characters and there are the twists and turns you expect to keep you fascinated. This makes the second half very entertaining indeed.

These are really hard times for theatre and it was somewhat heartbreaking seeing two well known 'household' names such as Brian Capron and Cathy Shipton unable to attract even a moderate audience. Even describing it as a small audience seems an exaggeration.

It really is getting to a stage where whoever decides on ticket prices has to think about whether they can be justified to continue at current levels. Not just for this show but for all shows, everywhere. 

Audience levels are getting down to pathetic numbers. Take this production as an example. Prices ranged from £13.50 to £18.50. I'm no marketing or economics expert but if a price cut of approx 30% was set making tickets £9.50 to £13.50 I'm sure the under £10 tickets would have filled a darned site more of the auditorium then we experienced and I daresay net takings would have been much higher.

It's about supply and demand. When petrol prices reached their peak and people stopped filling tanks the oil companies reduced prices. Wake up theatre land the Government is slashing arts budgets enough and if you don't start getting folks enjoying live entertainment at a price they can afford they are not going to come and once they stop it's going to be harder than ever to get them back.

Don't people in the theatre industry get together to discuss audience numbers, prices and current issues? If they don't it's high time they started otherwise we will see theatres going the same way the Public Houses have - closed, sold off, demolished or converted into trendy wine bars or housing.

If you ask anyone who goes to the theatre why they don't go so much the answer is always price of tickets. So powers that be in theatre wake up and smell the coffee because it's starting to get cold.

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  1. You spend most of your time writing about the lack of audience, which is irritating and I'm afraid to say, a pitfall the amateur reviewer often falls into. Not helpful at all in giving your readers an insight into th eplay

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