A few weeks ago Radio Four's Front Row sent me to see a play called "Riflemind". This is not my usual beat. However, many years ago in another life I studied drama and directed plays. Hence I've probably got more insight into how theatrical productions work than I do rock bands.
The reason they sent me is that the play, written by Andrew Upton, was about a rock band getting back together. The reason they were bothering to cover it is that Upton is married to Cate Blanchett, the play was the opening production of a deal intended to bring plays from Sydney to London, it was directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman and starred John Hannah.
Not being a regular patron of the legitimate theatre - I gen'lly go to things long after they've been pronounced hits - I wasn't sure whether "Riflemind" was par for the course. To my eyes and ears it seemed very bad. "Mortifyingly bad," is how one critic described it the following day. At the interval I found myself sitting next to the mother of one of the actors. She worked out that I was there to review it. She looked at me with some sympathy. "But what are you going to say?"
Anyway, I did my bit on "Front Row" the following night and, thanks to Google alerts, I was able to track everything that was written about the show. Shows like this live or die by the reviews and "Riflemind"'s were so bad that the "reviews" section of their website still said "coming soon" a full week after the opening. Then there were the special offers with £50 seats going for £20, which still seemed quite a lot for such a trial of an evening. Today it posted closing notices. It's coming off two months before it was supposed to. The credit crunch gets the blame.
I don't exactly know how such a terrible play was given a West End production though I suspect it's something to do with the fact that nobody likes to lay down in the path of a few stars with a shared purpose. The people I feel for in this situation are the actors, the poor cannon fodder on whom such an enterprise depends. Every night for a month they've had to go on in front of an auditorium empty enough to hunt buffalo and give this wretched play their best shot. They will have known it was terrible long before I did. That's bloody hard work, in the words of Nicholas Craig, actor.