With so much to see in London, both on the West End and further afield, it is almost impossible to try and attempt to catch everything. Whilst most people narrow down long lists to a reasonable amount of shows that fit their own budgets, other choose to see the same show over and over again.
I’m always baffled by people I see on social media who I see are going to shows such as Wicked and Phantom over and over again and do wonder why, when there is literally too much to go and see, do people insist on revisiting shows numerous times?
This week I found myself seeing The Scottsboro Boys for a second time, having seen and enjoyed it last year at the Young Vic where it was one of my favourite shows of the season by far. Despite enjoying it so much, I was worried about seeing it again, especially relatively soon afterwards in case by seeing it a second time I found the experience lessened in any way. As it turns out, there was enough different about the production to justify in my head seeing if for a second time, and watching it in the West End certainly had a different feel to it. I am always worried however that a return visit may dampen my initial enthusiasm, and somehow ruin the original experience.
Of course it can also work the opposite way. This week I also saw the sensational Here Lies Love at the National Theatre’s newly opened Dorfman, and already found myself booking again – this time to experience it from a different perspective. In a 360 degree setting, I found it hard to take everything in, and despite knowing the music and lyrics fairly well, I feel its certainly a show that would benefit from a repeat viewing.
It’s hard enough sometimes to see a totally different production of a play or musical I particularly enjoyed, just in case the new version doesn’t live up to the first. Nowhere is this more relevant than with the musical Gypsy which I had the pleasure of first seeing on Broadway in 2008 with Patti LuPone, Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines. The production itself was directed by original book writer and director Arthur Laurents. Despite coming less than 5 years since the previous revival, which had starred Bernadette Peters, directed by Sam Mendes, Laurents was ultimately dissatisfied with the production, and wanted the chance to ‘right the wrongs’ of Mendes, leaving the world with a more ‘definitive’ version before he died in 2011.
Laurent’s memoirs are fascinating on many levels, but I have always been particularly taken with his love for Gypsy and his determination to make sure the Sam Mendes version was almost erased, or at least overshadowed, by one he considered to be ‘better’. As a writer and creative, this instinct seems extrmeley natural, but for audience members too – it can be as though you want your final memory of a certain title to be the best it can be, and not soured by another production.
Of course another way to combat this is over saturation. Most theatre fans have sat through countless Shakespeare productions of the same text in a wide variety of productions, yet still manage to hang on to a particular version they previously enjoyed.
There is a strange comfort in going to see familiar shows over and over, but many take it to disturbing levels of extreme. Every show has its ‘groupies’ who line the front row clad head to toe in stash from the merchandise booth – it’s these people who spend every spare pound they have on seeing their favourite show time and time again, to a level of obsession. Recently I sat next to a wonderful old lady at Forbidden Broadway who told me she sees everything in the West End, and saw Top Hat upwards of 25 times. She went on to say she became their mascot, going backstage on numerous occasions and knew the cast on first name terms. Quite remarkable.
I’m someone who will happily watch the same episode of ‘Friends’ over and over (in the old days on C4 then 4+1 – yes, I’m that sad) and have yearly dates with my favourite novels. Whilst this is of course free and somewhat less time consuming – I still am yet to find a show I want to see over and over again. A friend of mine judges how much he likes a show on whether or not he wants to return to it – which is certainly an interesting way of monitoring your reactions, and certainly one that many shows rely on to keep customers coming through the door.
It was with great comfort then to read the unanimous praise for Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Gypsy which I’ll be seeing this weekend. By all accounts my memories of 2008 will certainly be matched, if not topped. But shhhhhh don’t tell Patti…