Plays are too long, life is too short and actresses are too young

Saturday 7 July 2007

It is a fundamental tenet of the West End Whingers’ philosophy that – on the whole – plays should be less long than they actually are. Life is too short. Even Phil’s.

But thankfully it seems that our message is getting through and we are optimistic that theatre may be on the brink of an exciting new revolution in London.

Both Whingers have been increasingly grumpy over the last few days as the prospect of visiting the National Theatre next Monday looms. Why they booked to see George Bernard Shaw’s St Joan is a mystery. The running time is currently quoted as “3 hours 5 mins inc interval – provisional” and we know what that means at the National.

But here’s an interesting item in today’s Telegraph that suggests that our concerns are neither unique nor new and indeed are being addressed. Apparently:

Critics of the original production in New York suggested that St Joan could be trimmed down from three and a half hours. “It will probably happen when I am no longer in control of the performing rights,” said Shaw, who took the view that a longer play represented better value for money. “So perhaps it will be as well for the public to see the play while I am still alive.”

No student of logic, he, then.

It goes on to report that directrix Marianne Elliot has been valiantly working with playwright Samuel Adamson to cut Joan down to size:

“I didn’t feel an audience sitting there till 11.30 would particularly thank me,” she says. “I read that one theatre manager complained to Shaw that all the buses and trains had finished. People couldn’t get home. He just said, ‘Put on other buses.’ “

There are just so many reasons to be grateful that GBS is dead.

But interestingly the Telegraph also mentions that Shaw wrote the play for Dame Sybil Thorndike (right) and that:

Thorndike was over 40 when she first played Joan of Arc in 1923 and, although her character is burnt at the stake at the age of 19, she went on playing her until she was practically 60.

Now that we would happily watch until the cows come home.

Indeed, although we have nothing against Anne-Marie Duff yet, we would like Elliot to consider a last minute change of cast for the role of Joanie.

How about Liz Smith, Doreen Mantle or Elaine Stritch?

3 Responses to “Plays are too long, life is too short and actresses are too young”

  1. Rednose Says:

    Hi There

    Currently I’m experimenting with longer plays. The pace of society today coupled with tv and the internet has resulted in entertainment getting shorter.
    This means that the relationship between performance and audience is cut short and we have so much less time in which to affect people.
    Then as some people will tell you, it’s not about the length, it’s what you do with it that counts.

    P.S. It’s nice to finally find a site that’s properly blogging theatre.

    Have a great day

  2. Rednose – Thanks for your kind words but longer plays?

    Let us get this straight – because people today have shorter attention spans you are asking them to sit through longer plays?

  3. Rednose Says:

    It shouldn’t matter the length if the quality is up to scratch. Back in the day, people went to the theatre for most of the day, since it was one of the only forms of entertainment.
    However I’m experimenting with a different type of lengthened theatre and it has nothing to do with Swedish devices and a certain pair of Austrailian Puppetry Performers.
    And since I’m having a rant. If people aren’t willing to sit down for longer periods of time, we’ll never be rid of this 5 second culture of today.

    Have a Fantastic Day

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