Mark Shenton Makes Me Hunger for London Theatre and Spotted Dick

Peter Zumthor's St. Benedict Chapel (1988) is a humble, human-scaled church perched on a Swiss mountain slope.

All right, all right, I could live without spotted dick. But who can live without London theatre? I can, apparently, because I’ve gone 10 years — this is horribly embarrassing — without a visit to one of my favorite cities on the planet.

From 1990 to 1998 I visited London a bunch of times and I always saw shows while there. (An afternoon of Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkins in A Delicate Balance left me limp with ecstasy.) Since then, well, not so much. Sometimes it was a financial decision, sometimes it was a matter of Ken and I wanting to take holidays that were real holidays — meaning no theatre for me, given that I see 150-200 shows a year.

But then, I read my friend Mark Shenton’s piece in The Stage. It covers a lot of ground insofar as being a critic and what it means — and what it doesn’t mean. I recommend that everybody read this. It’s very insightful and awfully well put together. Here’s a sample:

One of the special privileges of being a critic, and one I try not to take for granted, is that while the rest of the public scrambles for impossible-to-get tickets, we’re actually invited to be there. And last week, even as David Tennant’s late return to Hamlet put an even greater premium on those seats, we were invited to see it again last Wednesday, even though most of us had seen the production twice already – once at Stratford last August, then again at the London opening, when Tennant’s understudy Edward Bennett had to stand in for him.

But one of the special problems of being a critic, and one that I know most of my friends try not to take me for granted over, is that sometimes it is thought that we have special access for others, too.

One friend who has been away in Australia for the last few months sent me an e-mail last week: “Can you a get me a comp for August: Osage County at the National. I hear from friends it’s a fab piece of theatre and I’d love to see it.”

Yes, it is, I replied – but the entire run is sold out, too. Meanwhile, another veteran theatregoer friend also wrote last week: “I saw Hamlet last week. Fine production (but I wouldn’t expect anything less from Greg Doran) and I was very impressed by Edward Bennett – he was my 61st Hamlet!! But I really would like to make Mr Tennant my 62nd.” And he begged my help to try to make it happen.


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