We've been to see two amazing shows within the same week this month, 'Billy the Monster and Me' and 'Wicked'. Both were amazing, spectacular and... well... wowee! (as our youngest member, William, said). They were both warm, funny, entertaining, touching, sad, scary, and for the family, it was great to see so many age groups coming together to enjoy these experiences as a unit (even on a school night).
With the West End hit it's easy to say that it's down to budget, orchestra and wires but I think that cheapens the actual heart and spectacle that is being created by this talented group of performers. Musical theatre is hard graft, takes supreme talent and dedication and absolutely serves it's audience fully.
But with minimal budget, one guitar and absolutely without the aid of strings we were enthralled with Billy and his close encounter with the monster, we were all fully engaged (I was very excited when I realised where we were going to get the answers from, to save us all from being gobbled up).
So, it's been proven that it isn't just massive budgets and hype that guarantees great quality theatrical experiences. But what made them both such a hit with their audiences?
I think it's because they both were truly created for the theatre (not tv/screen on a stage). They are two shows that understand the 'magic' and energy of creating live performances. Both use amazing physicality from their star casts, both casts are visibly fully involved and committed to the moment and energy of telling their stories. They both knew their audiences and made no apologies for it but understood that essentially we're all children wanting to be took on a journey with some real peril to face.
Both told me something about myself. When I saw Billy trying to play with his mum while she was washing, on the phone and emailing, I saw my boy and me and the dialogue that we have, the way he just wants to play and I'm seemingly always busy. Simple I know, but I had a pang of frustration with myself as I saw Billy get angry with this seemingly hopeless situation. So I've promised to build a castle with him whenever he asks it of me.
And Wicked, is far more than good vs evil or an alternative back story to a well-loved and known classic. It's about friendships and the turbulent paths we have, how we grow reluctantly apart and hurt one another in the worst ways with the hope that one day it'll be rectified in some way, whatever way it may be. It's political and poignant and can clearly and easily reflect how we as a mass are fed and accept fear and hysteria based on little evidence and the lack of reward or support for those who speak/act out. And just because it is given with a song and a dance number doesn't mean it’s not there and doesn't mean it’s going unnoticed.
It's in live performance where we can truly take the time to engage and reflect on ourselves and our actions. We fully emerge in the energy of the people, story and space. The event as a whole, getting the friends and family together, talking to others in the bar/car after and the immediate want to go again and see something else.
Live performance/theatre shouldn't be something you 'should' go to, it should be something you want and need to go to. I fear that our fragile fringe and small scale theatre audiences have been disenchanted by prescribed theatre (something unpleasant that you should take as it's good for you) and have decided 'to hell with the health risks, I'm skipping my dose this month'. It is therefore our duty to ensure that we look after our audiences, we give them enchanting, magical, provocative and inclusive live performances which have them thinking as much about 'how clever was it when they did that thing with the chair?' as how the tale told shall inform new opinion and action as a mother, a friend an a green animal rights activist, well maybe not the green bit, but you get the gist ;-)