Billie Piper – Name above the title.

Sunday 11 March 2007

It’s not a huge vote of confidence in Billie Piper (or perhaps it’s merely recognition of why audiences are bothering to turn up at all), that the producers of Treats at the Garrick Theatre have taken the unusual step of publicly offering punters tickets for an alternative performance if the leading lady doesn’t show.

Having already missed several previews (but wisely attending the press night) Ms P – in the less than humble opinion of the Whingers – is the main, nay only, reason to sit through this rather humdrum evening of domestic sturm und drang.

It’s deeply annoying to book tickets expecting to see a particular performer, then turn up at the playhouse and seeing one of those dreaded, printed “Due to the indisposition of…” notices displayed discretely in the foyer. One’s heart (if one’s lucky enough to have one) sinks lower than Jimmie Krankie in a provincial production of Three Tall Women. But despair not, help is on the way…

Theatrical convention has it that, if the “name” appears above the title of the play in publicity, then the paying public are usually entitled to tickets for another night or claim a refund. This may not actually be a legal requirement – Jimmie Krankie-sized print usually states that producers are entitled to replace performers –  but in practice they will usually play the game and honour this tradition.

Phil has tested this out on several occasions. Having been lucky enough to see Nathan Lane’s sublime performance in The Producers and booked again on behalf of a large group of friends, Lane pulled out of the show before the performance. Of course the box-office were a bit sniffy about it, but they did refund the small fortune he’d forked out.

On one of Rudolph Nureyev’s last outings at the London Coliseum, it was actually stated that the main man would perform at every show, understandably when an announcement was made (annoyingly only when the whole audience was seated) that Nureyev’s understudy would be performing his role in Romeo and Juliet (playing Romeo, Phil seems to remember) the sound of Phil’s seat flipping back up and the stomp of his chacha heels to the box office resounded around the auditorium.

So if you find yourself in a similar position, test them out. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It’s tough on the understudies, but then the Whingers never were in the business of being charitable.

Plough a furrow to the foyer and tell ’em. Take up the spirit of Peter Finch in Network and shriek: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it it any more”.

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