Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was on tv earlier this week, so I was singing “Anything Goes” in risibly badly remembered phonetic Mandarin-lite for twenty four hours, so it was a relief to get it out of my system and go and see the actual show, Anything Goes, at the Crucible theatre on Tuesday afternoon.
And, yes, this is the kind of review that’s going to explain why no-one will go to the theatre with me any more.
And, yes, I have issues with the Crucible theatre: I’m not a neutral party. You see, I was here before the Crucible. When the Crucible was a hole in the ground, trying to raise enough money to be built, I wanted it to exist. I was an usherette there all through my A-level years.
(Old git alert: when I worked at the Crucible three evenings a week I was paid. I also had a paid Saturday job at Boots the Chemist in Broomhill. And then I left school, and my mother got me a temporary full time job for a couple of weeks at Lucas’ in Mappin Street (before it became one of the University buildings, when it was something to do with the manufacture of car parts). The old git part? I had three jobs, one full time and two part time, in the early seventies, and my ambition at the time was to earn forty pounds a week and even with three jobs I didn’t make it. (Cue chorus of Four Yorkshiremen saying “tell the young people of today that…”))
Anything Goes is…OK.
I know, I know, and I’m sorry, but I can’t say any fairer than that.
I can’t complain about the show itself. I hadn’t seen it before, but the book is a reasonable comedy farrago of people in disguise, in love with the wrong people, and motivated by monomania. She loves him, he loves the other gal, she’s marrying the rich guy, the rich guy’ll marry whoever’s left over and we’ll all live happily ever after. And the songs are mostly great: I get a kick out of you, You’re the top, It’s de-lovely, and of course Anything Goes itself. Even the ones you can’t instantly sing along to – Blow, Gabriel, Blow – are performed with panache. The chorus singing is excellent and a couple of the cast – notably Stephen Matthews as Lord Oakleigh and Debbie Kurup as Reno – have fabulous voices.
It’s the dancing. I know ‘everyone’s a critic’ is a cliche, but there’s also some truth in it. Critics had a gatekeeping function in the pre-broadcast and pre-internet age, helping people identify good performances from bad, and in signposting star quality. Now, however, people can see, effortlessly, electronically, enough performances to form their own opinions. There are also enough quasi-critical programmes like Strictly that people also have some idea of what makes a good performance. There is personal preference, but there’s also the difference between competence and excellence, and far more people have sufficient experience of different performances to see which is which.
So the dancing was, well, competent. That doesn’t mean I could do any of it, or that it isn’t bloody hard work competently performed at a professional level that 99% of us could never aspire to reaching. What it wasn’t, though, was worth going out of the house to watch because it was better/more exciting/more engaging that anything I could see on tv any day of the week. Sorry and all that, but if I still notice the girls fumbling the scarf pull at the end of Anything Goes in Temple of Doom after all these years, I’m also going to notice that there are only half a dozen dancing sailors in the chorus on the Crucible stage and, while they were all dancing their hearts out, there wasn’t that… something extra… that I couldn’t have got from watching Strictly.
I feel awful saying it, actually, because they’re real people with real jobs that they work really hard at, but there wasn’t any… stardust.
I don’t know how you get stardust, but I know it when I see it, and Anything Goes didn’t show me any. Sorry again.
Two things might have helped. One is just sheer numbers. The chorus lines were five girls and six boys and that number felt just a little mean. I know actors cost money and an enormous chorus line is, presumably, the difference between profit and loss. But then I always thought the chorus line in Temple of Doom looked a bit thin, too. I don’t recall ever thinking that in a Fred and Ginger movie.
And the other?
The Crucible has a thrust stage. Like the Olivier and the Globe, the audience aren’t separated from the cast by a proscenium arch. Now, if you want to know what a person thinks about politics, look at what was happening in the world when they were 18. For me, if you want to know my views about theatre, look at what theatre I was going to when I was 18. For me, the Crucible is the ideal stage configuration and it makes me brain-explodingly mad to see it used as if it was a badly-designed proscenium arch rather than a brilliantly-designed thrust.
Anything Goes is going on tour when it finishes at the Crucible. Look at the dates and the venues here. It’s designed to tour, and to tour all kinds of venues. It’s not designed for the Crucible. One of my fantasy “when I win £100 million on the Eurolottery” fantasies is to buy the Crucible and run it how I think it ought to be run. So I guess you can safely ignore my opinion of its productions.