Old Vic’s Much Ado About Nothing or the nature of early word of mouth

old vic much ado about nothing posterIt’s a rare pleasure when I can enjoy advance word of mouth without first hand experience of a production. When I am without a ticket and uninterested enough not to be avoiding spoilers, but intrigued by what I hear and read. This is the case with the Old Vic production of Much Ado About Nothing, with its big name cast (Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones) and its larger than life director (Mark Rylance). Press night is tonight but the word of mouth has been interesting (to use a word that, if it had an expression, it would be a poker face).

“This Much Ado About Nothing is bolder than one might have expected” writes Ian (Ought to be clowns) . Another blog (Cream of Vampire Soup) disagrees: “All Old Vic productions are the same (…) No mess. No fuss. And definitely no risk.” Webcowgirl (in a blog post that has generated 46 comments so far) isn’t impressed: “Rarely has a title for a Shakespearean show proven so prophetic.” Westendwhingers give it two out of five. Huffington Post raves about it: “This wonderful production has so much innovation, spirit and humour that I loved every minute.”

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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. Continue reading