I love theatre, that’s no secret, but recently there have been certain attitudes regarding the industry that have really made my blood boil – so what better way to get it out of my system that to write a blog about it. Let’s talk about stars and understudies.
In March my friends and I went to see Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory. We were very much looking forward to seeing Sheridan Smith in the role of Fanny Brice, however a few hours before the show we saw on Twitter that she wouldn’t be performing that night due to receiving bad news. Naturally we were disappointed to not see Sheridan in the role but regardless still looked forward to the show and seeing Natasha J. Barnes in the role instead. In productions like this it’s a rarity to see the understudy so I considered it a treat!
Other audience members did not act the same way. Immediately there was a wave of people on social media complaining about how much they’d paid to travel to London to see Sheridan, how they wanted reimbursement for their travel, their tickets, even their hotels for crying out loud! As someone who felt sort of involved in it all that day having seen the show that night, I was outraged.
Natasha did a stunning job in the show, and still received a standing ovation. She was sensational and I’m thrilled to have seen her as Fanny Brice while the production was still at the Menier, she then went on to complete the run while Sheridan took much needed time off.
I’m glad Sheridan took that time off – she is human just like the rest of us, with the same emotions and reactions. To those complaining about not seeing her in the show – would you rather see her at the top of her game having taken some time off to heal, or see the show where she can’t perform as well as she could do because she’s having to deal with her demons while being on stage? How would you like it if a family member was diagnosed with a horrid disease and you were berated publicly on social media and even in the press for not wanting to go to work? Put yourself in her shoes for just a second.
It seemed like that storm had calmed for a while, but then Glenn Close needed to take some shows off from Sunset Boulevard due to personal illness. Again, people were outraged and demanding refunds, complaining beyond belief – only to be blown away by Ria Jones’ performance in the next breath.
This is why we have understudies.
They train just as hard, they audition just the same, usually they still work their asses off in the ensemble every night of the show as well, and they are just as worthy of the applause you’ll still give them at the end of the show.
They are cast because the powers that be believe they can carry the show when the lead, a public “star” or otherwise, cannot go on. Not only that, but an understudy is always ready to go on – sometimes they’ll only get told hours before the performance, I’ve heard of it happening in even less time.
Don’t tell me you’re displeased at seeing someone else in a role when they go through so much physically, mentally and emotionally in a short space of time for that show to even happen. Don’t be so rude.
Nowadays the sense of entitlement with those visiting the theatre is getting ridiculous. It doesn’t help that a lot of shows with big names cast in them ride on that in the marketing to sell tickets – it’s understandable, but still an issue. When it comes to the theatre, audiences should be going primarily to see the show. It’s great if the cast are fantastic too, but if you’re that much a fan of the cast or a cast member I hope you’d rather they take the time off to keep themselves healthy rather than perform for you if you’re there the night they need to be off.
Performers are not robots. Sheridan Smith doesn’t deserve the stick she’s getting in the press and from her ‘fans’. She deserves the time to be with her family as they go through an incredibly hard time. Natasha J. Barnes should be allowed to enjoy her rare moments in the spotlight, and be praised for it. She doesn’t deserve to see countless people berating her because she’s doing her job and covering the role. You definitely want to see Sheridan? Go watch the plethora of fantastic performances she’s given in television and film.
You are not entitled to the star. When you buy that ticket you are not guaranteed a specific cast, it even says that before you book. Be grateful that you get to see an incredible performance regardless, because 99% of the time no matter what – the show will go on.
That’s thanks to the understudies.