A Stagey Question- The Show or The Cast: My Case for Best of Both Worlds

As a theatre fan, a question I see around my social media and that comes up in conversation with likeminded friends and my long – suffering father who very kindly gives up his own time to ferry me to the capital and back loitering around while I’m being stagey with friends is do you go for the show itself, or just because you like the people in it? There are people in my circle of friends who say we should focus solely on the former and forget the latter but being honest it drives me crazy hearing that argument over and over, so I figured I’d just do a little defence of why my theatre-going is the way it is.

Like all of us fans of theatre, I do have my favourite actors that I quite happily will go and see in anything and everything I’m able to get to support them. For me, this is a good thing as it has encouraged me to see things I may not necessarily have chosen to see. Sure, that means said performer has been the big factor in my decision to buy a ticket, but I have yet to have an occasion where the performer in question has been the sole reason I’ve enjoyed an experience where this has been the case. I like to think that I’m more open minded than that, and can enjoy other aspects of the show as a whole than purely the casting. Two major examples spring to mind here: last year I saw the Old Vic’s production of The Crucible which starred Richard Armitage. I wanted to go for two reasons: I had studied the play in school and hated it because dismantling and analysing it to within an inch of its life at the time sucked all the pleasure out of reading, as it did with most texts during that time of my life. I reconnected with The Crucible during my undergrad years, and found that my passion for it rekindled, so I was a fan of the play to begin with when I booked. It was and probably will be the only chance I get to see Richard Armitage live, so I took it and was incredibly honoured and grateful to have had the chance. Performance from him aside, it turned out to be one of the most incredible things I’ve seen on stage, and I loved all the performances and other elements. The other show I wanted to mention here is the Donmar’s production of My Night with Reg. I booked at the time as I hadn’t seen a performer I am a fan onstage since October 2012, and loved the play so much I went back to see it a second time earlier this year when it transferred to the Apollo. A word on the Donmar a moment: this is probably one of my favourite venues in London that I have visited on three occasions to date, and because of my view there if something came up that I wanted to see, I would try for tickets irrespective of who was cast.


Something else I hear a lot is the fact that it frustrates people when they say theatregoers ‘moan’ about their favourites not being on. Now this I can see from both sides: if it becomes extreme and disrespectful towards the alternates/understudies and all those talented people who work so tirelessly to give all of us in the audience a great experience on Twitter and there’s nothing they can do about it as they’ve missed a show due to illness or something, then I have a problem. At the end of the day, these talented people are only human and are probably just as gutted as the upset parties are that they miss a show, it’s their living and from my experience I know they hate letting people down. On the other hand – I get it, I’ve been disappointed when I initially hear the principal isn’t on, but those worries have been quickly dispensed with on the majority of occasions; some of my best experiences of particular shows have been with understudies, including one I booked especially to see in the role. By that same token; my first two experiences of my now favourite show were with the cover and alternate in the main role at the time, and surely if I didn’t enjoy the show as a whole, I wouldn’t continue to return to said show the soon to be fourteen times I’ve currently seen it? You’ll notice I said the majority of occasions, there has only been one I’ve not enjoyed an alternate in the role, much to the surprise (and I think, disappointment) of a friend who was also attending. I have learnt over recent years of theatregoing that it’s a very personal thing: there are performers I admire and those my friends don’t, and vice versa and sometimes these things don’t change. The previously mentioned friend asked me that day if I enjoyed the performance of said alternate, and I didn’t see the point of lying to her, so yes I guess that is a bit hypocritical of me because I do enjoy seeing certain people, but I’m never going to apologise for having my own taste.

I’m going to see Beautiful for the first time this weekend, with the alternate in the principal role. I was over the moon to be seeing her, as I last saw her in the ensemble of another show. I have wanted to see the show since I started hearing wonderful things from friends: I know some of the music, but that’s about it. It’s fitting in with my resolution to see more shows that I haven’t seen, and have no idea what to expect! This month will feature a couple of new stagey adventures; the first being Hamlet on Friday, with Benedict Cumberbatch. I’m a big fan of his but also of Shakespeare in general, so there I’ll happily get the best of both worlds, and I don’t mind if going to see him falls into the ‘going for people’ camp, it’s my only chance to see him and again like with Richard Armitage, I’m going to take it!

As we know, my circumstances mean I have to be quite selective over when I can go and therein I’m also very selective over what I choose to see. As I can’t get in as regularly as I’d like, my visits there are really special and important to me, and I like to try my hand at Stage Door after a show. I know this is a privilege, never a right and I’m always incredibly grateful when people do. I’m especially grateful to those who know me as a regular attendee of their work as they always seem to be incredibly happy to see me and appreciate my being there to support them, and having that few moments of their time is something I treasure. Those performers I like encourage me to see shows I wouldn’t normally see, but that’s only small element of the bigger picture, and I’m proud to say that my theatregoing habits allow me to have the best of both worlds.


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