Twelfth Night and This House, press nights that didn’t happen make it to print

Stephen Fry as Malvolio. Photo Simon Annand

Press nights often create the headlines (after all you need a press night in order to have press reviews. Or do you? More about this later), but in the past week press nights ARE in the headlines: Twelfth Night started previews at the Globe, or more accurately started its Globe performances that function as a preview run before the official opening at the Apollo Theatre in November. None of the Globe performances are for the press and the expectation was, at least on the part of the producers, that the production will be reviewed for the first time at the Apollo. It didn’t quite work out that way: the Telegraph prominently run a review under the headline “Stephen Fry in Twelfth Night – First Review” and the Times followed suit a few days later. Both five star reviews I might add, but the producers are not happy: they protest these reviews break the embargo. I can’t help but feel it is a token effort whose main purpose is to prevent a precedent. With Mark Rylance playing Olivia  and, especially, Stephen Fry playing Malvolio, did they really believe the press would sit on their hands till November? But I wonder how critics from other papers feel. They have every reason to be unhappy as they played by the rules and punished for it.

On the other hand, the Guardian plays a different game these days: it encourages readers to use its own twitter hashtag #GdnReview, and between this and comments on its blogs, it published the readers views of the production. I am ambivalent about the prominent way the Guardian uses the public’s comments: there is a fine line between encouraging dialogue and encouraging people to give you content for free. As these are difficult and confusing days for the press, there is no easy answer.

Further along the south bank, the National Theatre had to postpone the press night of This House: due to a family bereavement, Phil Daniels had to leave previews and he hasn’t returned yet. So far, performances continued with Howard Ward stepping in and doing a great job under difficult circumstances and with very little preparation. The Evening Standard was impressed as well, but not so much as to get his name right. I hope James Graham’s play gets its press night soon, as it’s a great achievement and more people need to hear about it. But rescheduling the press night will be difficult: not only are critics’ diaries full, but the play’s run is mostly sold out. It will be interesting to see what solution the National comes us with. Update 11/10/2012: the press night of This House took place October 9th, the production got some great reviews and will transfer at the Olivier stage early 2013. As Phil Daniels hasn’t returned to performances yet, Andrew Frame is currently playing the role of  Bob Mellish, chief Labour whip.

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