I think there are three types of theatregoers. There are of course the scholars and true thespian enthusiasts who know every line of a play by heart and are often found at the press or Q & A nights asking astoundingly clever questions that put both the rest of the audience and the actors themselves to shame. If I sound critical, it is that I am slightly jealous and more than a little awed.
There are also the professional critics who go to a show with notepad in hand and then return to write a biting, edgy review wherein they claim to have intimate knowledge of the inner thoughts and intentions of the original writer (although it is more likely that they attended the press or Q & A night detailed above and gleamed such insights from the true enthusiasts). They rate the current performance against not only those thoughts and intentions but also in terms of how they measure up to previous productions of the play in Broadway or the West End. Their reviews are full of clever but obscure references and it seems that the more serious or controversial a play, the further it seems to fall foul of these expectations.
Of course, if people were actually paying any notice to the negative reviews, no one would ever go to the theatre (or to films for that matter either). Given the absolutely roaring trade that theatre is making in London at the moment*, I would say that the majority of theatregoers are normal, ordinary people who have decided to travel into the West End for a bit of fun and entertainment in the form of "dinner and a show". That is not to say that audiences are not sophisticated and wouldn't know the difference between good and bad theatre but it is obvious that theatre has become more about entertainment and enjoyment and less an upper-class, high brow pursuit as it was in the past. So it is that while the rest of England is crippled by the "credit crunch", theatres across the capital are boasting generous audiences seven days of the week and the West End is booming.
The reason I am mentioning this is that I went to see the stage production of The Little Dog Laughed which is showing at the Garrick Theatre in London this week. To me, one of the benefits of living in a big city like London is that you can go to the theatre and see some of the big television and film actors on stage. I would have gone to see this play no matter what as I am a particular fan of Harry Lloyd, for instance. Except that some of the reviews were so bad that I very nearly didn’t go and I have to wonder who the critics are actually writing for. Everyone around me in the theatre was having a grand old time and there was much laughter, clapping and bravos at all the right times. Certainly, there was no standing ovation at the end but that means it wasn’t brilliant. This was not a crowd that felt the show to be lacking, boring or disappointing (or so it seemed).
Is it possible then that critics lose sight of their audience at times and forget that the majority of theatregoers are actual human beings intent on enjoying themselves on a special night out? After all, who exactly do we think we are?