People. They’ll Watch Anything, By Stuart Price

Paul Rhys in The Master and Margarita

People. They’ll watch anything.

We saw the countless crowds last weekend stood in the rain for hours patiently waiting for the chance to see The Queen and the rest of the Royal Family. They came in droves just for a quick glimpse.

That’s not because they are dumb. Or sheep. Or fawning royalists. Or morons. It’s because people are good. People are great. They are awesome and inspiring and love nothing more than being entertained in whatever format they see fit. Like late Zoologist Desmond Morris observed – for every random isolated violent act committed by person on person there are thousands upon thousands of silent kindnesses taking place second by second between human beings. I love being entertained especially in the theatre, and it’s been a month since I had the privelidge of seeing Complicite’s‘The Master and  Margarita’ at the Barbican. I won’t go in to how stupidly mind blowing it was. But it was. It was utterly compelling yes, but best of all it was so different. So modern. It felt like watching the future. I felt the same when I saw ‘Pulp Fiction’ – like a subtle but enormous change had taken place somehow.

So why was I surprised when I came across an article from a few years back featuring a certain hugely successful composer and owner of many West End theatres, stating that “I’ve decided it’s un-doable. It’s just too difficult for an audience to contemplate. It’s a very complicated novel.”

The gentleman in question was Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber referring to his attempt to stage Mikhail Bulgakov’s‘The Master and Margarita’.

Now, let’s not bash him too hard, even if he does use the publicly funded BBC as his very own Marketing and PR department so that he may tell us which antique he plans to dust off prior to taking his gold plated dumper truck to Coutts. And it should come as little surprise to anyone that he views theatregoers as slightly diminished. And he is hugely loved by many, lets not forget. But surely once you have the opportunity to exploit your huge demand, you should use that opportunity to maximise talent rather than revenue? Exploit artistic ideas rather than ageing rock bands back catalogues? I love a good hen do, but can’t they go to Mykonos instead of the Duchess? Goodness knows Greece could use the business. And let’s not pretend that without recycling musicals the West End would die.

People. They’ll watch anything.

It’s time writers and creators gave them everything. Threw the kitchen sink at our craft and took enormous risks in the name of Theatre. That’s the key to not surviving but thriving.

I’m off to ride my bike 900 miles to the Festival D’Avignon to see ‘Margarita’ again. That’s the effect theatre should have on you. 

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