Blowings Off: What on earth is Greta Scacchi going on about?

Wednesday 18 June 2008

Welcome to “Blowings Off”, the West End Whingers’ exciting new round-up of who’s saying what on the Interweb. We will be publishing it every week when we can be bothered.

This week: What is Greta Scacchi on and where can we get some?

In an interview in The Times this week (which doesn’t sound at all as though it was ghosted by a sub-editor as a result of a telephone conversation or dictated to a member of the PR team) Ms Scacchi (currently in The Deep Blue Sea at the Vaudeville) bemoans the fact that straight plays can’t compete for attention with musicals in the West End and comes up with a solution:

So I was talking to a friend about what to do about it, and we came up with an idea. We decided to give the audience questionnaires, asking them to comment on what they’ve just seen.

Nica Burns, our producer, was very keen to try it out, she came up with the questions, and we’ve been leaving them on the seats of the Vaudeville. There are six in all, asking such things as: “This play has been called a ‘modern masterpiece’, one critic called it ‘dated’. What do you think?”; “On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate this production?”; and “How would you describe it to a friend?”

I haven’t read the responses – I don’t think it’s that wise for actors to do so during a run – but I know that audiences have been responding in droves. Some are taking them home and posting them back to the theatre.

This is still a germ of an idea, evolving from seed, but Nica and other members of the Society of London Theatres (SOLT) are so, so interested by it. It absolutely isn’t an attempt to topple the critical establishment. Our critics provide some of the most brilliant analysis and honest personal opinion anywhere. But it’s an attempt to give more power to the word-of-mouth response of audiences.

And it would be fantastic if everyone knew there was a website where the responses were collected. It would let you know immediately, when you were looking to find out what’s on, what other audiences thought about it. It would have to be run by an independent body such as SOLT, and be very fair, authentic and trustworthy rather than just producers trying to sell their own shows. And at the same time, it could provide genuine ticket-office numbers for the shows, to tackle the huge problem of criminal ticket sellers in London overcharging people or lying about what’s available purely on the basis of what they have to sell.

It’s a very small idea, I know, and a very new one. But my hope is that the questionnaires might fight back a bit against the massive marketing manoeuvres of the West End musicals, to give good, straight plays in the West End more of a chance by harnessing the power of the word of mouth. Whether it works or not in the long term, I don’t know. Right now, we’re just running with it. We’ll have to see where it takes us.

We just can’t wait to see this “fair, authentic and trustworthy” website; moreover we are rushing off to the Vaudeville so that we can fill in the questionnaire and wait for our responses to appear there. So, you see, it is already putting bums on seats.

In the meantime, some questions:

  • Genius, but why has no-one thought before of setting up a website which tells people whether something’s good or not based on having seen it?
  • Do germs really evolve from seed?
  • In what sense is SOLT “independent”? (Use both sides of the paper if necessary). When was the last time you saw something negative about a production on their website?
  • Will all comments be posted on this website then? Or only the good ones? Or only the bad ones? Or just a cross-section (of good ones)?
  • Do musicals really have an unfair advantage? Try telling that to Gone With The Wind. The truth will out or, as the Whingers have proved time and time again, in vino veritas.
  • Just to clarify: when you talk about “criminal ticket sellers in London overcharging people or lying about what’s available purely on the basis of what they have to sell” are you talking about touts or the theatres?
  • And, incidentally, if theatres really cared about who sold the tickets wouldn’t they be clamping down on domains such as which is not the Vaudeville Theatre’s website but London Direct Theatre’s. Honestly, we’re beginning to think that theatres don’t care, just as long as someone is selling their tickets.

8 Responses to “Blowings Off: What on earth is Greta Scacchi going on about?”

  1. Here’s another question, while we’re at it. What’s to stop the producers, cast and crew to essentially stuff the ballot box full of raves?

  2. Andrew Field Says:

    Also how ‘very new’ is it fair to call a ‘germ of an idea’ that already has its own wikipedia page:

    If Greta Scachi had actually been to a theatre in the last five years she’d realise most decent ones are already way beyond this in terms of finding dynamic, creative ways for people to respond to the work, whether it be video booths, voice recorders or (and here’s a piece of blue sky thinking) blogs where people can leave their own comments.

    Truly, we are living in the future.

  3. AllShookUp Says:

    If only they can find a means of checking with those who gave the Deep Blue Sea a miss for their reasons why, they might be on to something. The doomed romance of dashing-but-shallow RAF-type Freddie and posh-but frumpy Hester sounded to me as if it would need to be acted out in monochrome to do it justice.

  4. As a paying theatregoer with a lot of productions to choose from and having to decide which will be worth my time and hard earned money, I have to say that I rely heavily on reviews from critics whose opinions I respect, no questionnaire whatever their results are will prompt me to watch a play that didnt get at least a passing mark.

    By the way, re: Blowings Off, nice feature title guys!

  5. Another question:

    “My hope is that the questionnaires might fight back a bit against the massive marketing manoeuvres of the West End musicals, to give good, straight plays in the West End more of a chance by harnessing the power of the word of mouth.”

    What does Ms Scacchi mean by “word of mouth” when used to describe comments put on a website by the marketing department of a theatre? Carefully describe how this differs from “massive marketing manoeuvres”. Extra points are available to candidates who can explain why Ms Scacchi uses the word “manoeuvres” rather than, say, “strategies”.

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