Blogged: long-running shows and long-running blogs – what does the future hold

I revisit long-runners The Mousetrap, Les Misérables and Wicked, and come to a decision (of sorts) about the future of this blog

“Here’s to you and here’s to me”

Well 2019 has been an interesting year so far and one full of significance – I’ve turned 40, this blog has turned 10 and it’s all got me in a reflective mood. Personally, professionally, is this what I want to be doing? Do quote a Netflix show I haven’t even seen, does all this bring me joy…? Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve revisited a few long-running shows in the West End to consider what cost longevity. 

The longest running show in the West End is The Mousetrap – 66 years old with over 27,000 performances and their answer to keeping going is to not change a single bit – has the show even ever cast a person of colour? My limited research suggests not… On the one hand, it’s a policy that does seem to have worked and that record is a mighty USP, although does the number of empty seats at the St Martin’s that afternoon suggest a waning of interest finally?

On the other, it’s a real oddity to sit down and watch. In this postSarah Phelps world, eyes are increasingly open to the possibilities of adapting Agatha Christie in a meaningful way whereas as this production is deliberately stuck in amber. It has that air of Sunday afternoon visits to distant elderly relatives, the ones who mix up different crisp flavours in a bowl you know, rather than stimulating any real theatrical pleasure. Still, tourists are always gonna tourist.

I also paid a return visit to the second-longest running show in London – Les Misérables. It’s a musical that has long lived in my heart as one of my all-time faves, if only for the fact that I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know and love it, such was my childhood! At 33 years and nearly 14,000 performances, its reputation is long-established but change is upon us and indeed the reason I went back, to bid farewell to the revolve.

For this summer will see the show close at the Queen’s while a redesigned production is inserted anew into the theatre, a concert version at the Gielgud will serve as a stopgap (and presumably maintain the long-runner record…). A fundamental change to the staging and one which will freshen the experience for many. For me though, a more interesting change is in the current casting, with Amara Okereke proving a stunningly good Cosette and three racially diverse young actresses being cast as the younger version – such boldly non-representational choices are rare in British theatre full stop, never mind the West End so it really does feel like a step in the right direction.

And skipping a bit down the list (7th in currently running shows, 13th overall), Wicked is approaching its 13th birthday with just over 5000 performances. Here, there’s a constant regeneration in the form of annual cast changes but I don’t know if that really counts as significant change, someone riffing a bit differently in ‘Defying Gravity’… The show otherwise remains as it always has, with Alice Fearn and Sophie Evans currently leading the company in fine form.

So no real conclusions to be drawn then, in how to secure longevity, best to take it on a case-by-case basis. Which leads me to this blog and its future. It has been ten long years, filled with some extraordinary pleasures and privileges and no small amount of hard work along with it. But increasingly, there’s a distinct unfriendliness from some quarters, abusive comments and emails, and the head-bashing that is trying to deal with some theatre PRs, it can wear a boy down and make him wonder if 10 years is long enough.

And so I’m pressing the pause button. For a month or two in the first instance, where I won’t take on any new reviewing commitments (but still honour the few things in my calendar so the odd review may still pop up now and again). I’ve done a few interviews too so there’ll be some fresh #content ticking over whilst I recharge a battery or two and reconsider the way forward. In a reviewing landscape where not even the excellent Henry Hitchings is safe, do I even want to try and fit in any more? Heavens knows we don’t need another ‘future of theatre criticism’ article so I’ll leave it here – it’s definitely à bientôt for now though, rather than goodbye.  

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