The Criterion Theatre’s adventurous off-peak programming yesterday was Live from the Criterion – Tom Stoppard’s Artists Descending A Staircase. It’s about the fifth event I’ve been to at the theatre in the past few months. They are timed to fall outside the theatre’s evening performances of The 39 Steps, so have been on at lunchtimes or late on Fridays. Those I’ve attended include storytelling themed evenings – Stories Before Bedtime – for Halloween and Valentine’s Day, The Horne Section with Tim Minchin and Beardyman and yesterday’s radio play.
There are two things about yesterday I found inspiring. The first is that I made myself draw the actors as they performed around the microphone and as they sat on their chairs and listened. Jolly difficult, it turns out – they kept moving – who would have thought it. Anyway, I put them together in a kind of homage to Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2, – the reason for Mr Stoppard naming his play as he did, given that it’s a murder mystery exploring the meaning of art. Last time I seriously looked at that image I was 15 and trying to copy it for an art assignment.
The second reason I found it inspiring is that it is a brilliant way of using resources. Off-peak theatre events are surely somewhere where chances can be taken. If the theatre is already keeping itself in the black with a regular show, the costs for other events are less and actors already in other plays or musicals can be available. Yesterday’s cast, for example, had Katherine Parkinson, who is playing Diana in Alan Ayckbourn’s Absent Friends, who I saw a few weeks ago around the corner in the Harold Pinter Theatre. The likes of Celia Imrie, Tom Hiddleston and Russell Tovey have also been part of events. And the Criterion’s producer Sam Hodges, is seriously inspired in what is being put on and how it is being staged. Watching The Horne Section with Tim Minchin and Beardyman (the latter two who had been on the same Comedy Prom last year) was so amazing and the balance of the Valentine bedtime stories between romantic love, uncomplicated Biloxie cherry-picking and Punch and Judy Ovid was perfect. Oh – and I did like the gin sponsorship too. Perhaps Mary Berry could sort out a few scones and clotted cream for future daytime performances? The historic Criterion Theatre photograph in the bar does show the theatre with the words: ”AFTERNOON TEAS” on it … just a thought.
What I wondered though, is why there isn’t more inspired programming like this? Or does it exist and I just don’t know about it. Sure, yesterday’s audience didn’t pack out the place, but it was pretty decent. And if there was more of it, more people might look for it and attend.
Yesterday’s cast: Martello – Tim McInnerny, Beauchamp – Oliver Cotton, Donner – James Fleet, Young Martello – Ed Bennett, Young Beauchamp – Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Young Donner – James Northcote and Sophie – Katherine Parkinson.
Twitter mentions (that I know about): Horne Section: @AlexHorne @joestilgoe @hornesection, Tim Minchin: @timminchin, Beardyman: @beardyman, Criterion Theatre: @CriTheatre, Sam Hodges: @mrsamhodges, Tom Hiddleston: @twhiddleston, Russell Tovey @russelltovey, Sarah Solemani: @solemani, James Fleet: @James_Fleet, Henry Lloyd-Hughes: @MatineeIdle, James Northcote: @NorthcoteJames.