On Monday, I was excited to go to the theatre to see Funny Girl. As both a Barbra Streisand fan-girl and a huge admirer of Sheridan Smith I was hugely excited to see the show – the tickets for the run at the Menier Chocolate Factory had all sold out so quickly that I missed out, and I was delighted to snap up a ticket fairly soon after the transfer to the West End.
Funny Girl is playing at the Savoy. I like this theatre, it’s big without being soulless, welcoming and warm. I love turning left past the topiary of Kaspar outside the hotel to filter down to the theatre doors, I even enjoy the complex pas de deux this can involve with impatient drivers of Rollers, Bentleys and Mercs as they deposit their well-heeled passangers at the Savoy for dinner or a show. I’ve seen many shows here, from Guys and Dolls, to Gypsy, to Guys and Dolls, and have sat in many of the areas – from front row centre for Imelda Staunton’s star turn to the very back of the gods. Acoustically I think it’s quite blessed – even in the nosebleeds I’ve never hear badly.
As I was going solo to the theatre on Monday I decided to sit in the cheap(er) seats, up in the Grand Circle (I don’t think we can call them properly cheap – this is theatre in London after all!). I try to do this if I’m reviewing too – I think if people are going to the theatre the show should play to every level. I arrived on time, found my seat and settled in for the show.
I was sat in row H, in the grand circle. It’s pretty high up, but you get a good view of the stage. That is, until the rude lady sitting in seat F26 arrived. In front of row F there is a handrail, as it’s the front row of the back section. When you buy tickets there you know this, and you also know not to lean forward on the handrail, lest the rows behind you have their view obstructed. Seat F26 didn’t seem to care about this though, and perched forward, meaning that for the first act everything that happened front and centre (so, much of the acting, many of the solos, plenty of the comedy) was entirely blocked by her head. A person behind me raised it with the usher who asked the lady to sit back. She did for all of thirty seconds before relocating herself to the position of wall, blocking the view. Hemmed in by other theatregoers and oh-so-Britishly too polite to cause further disturbance, I stewed for the rest of the act.
At the interval I went to request a refund (I genuinely couldn’t see between a third and a half of the stage). As the box office was closed I was instead given another seat, after twenty minutes of standing in a cold corridor and being offered the chance to watch the action on a ‘sort of fuzzy screen’ for the second half. This time I was steated down in the stalls, which was kind, but not particularly helpful to the others in my section. As lovely as it was to have a comfy seat and a clear view for the second half, I was still disappointed at the rudeness of F26, and also by the lack of action taken to prevent her rudeness (there was an usher less than seven feet from where she was leaning forward and causing an issue).
I cannot abide bad manners at the theatre. Live theatre is such fun, and rather uniquely when enjoying an artform your fellow audience members become part of the experience. This can be wonderful – I’ve been handed napkins by kind American tourists as I’ve wept at Billy Elliot; I’ve booed and hissed villains at the Hackney panto on many occasions; I’ve joined in enthusiastic dancealongs during encores, been nonplussed and bemused by many an experimental piece, and shared a standing ovation with fellow theatregoers many a time. This part of the experience can also be a pain in the rear – from noisy wrappers to phones going off to taking pictures or filming during shows (this seems to be on the rise, hideously). On Monday, it simply meant that I cannot review the first half of the show. Because effectively I was listening to the soundtrack. The soundtrack in this case was very good; but I hadn’t ventured out across town and paid good money for a listening party. Thanks, F26, you (insert rude word of suitable vehemence – tastes may vary).
Onwards, then, to my ‘sort of’ review. Sheridan Smith was delightful – her richness of tone soared beautifully in her solos and she imbued the part of Fanny Brice with exactly the perfect balance of moxie, pathos, and realness. What a gift to the London stage she is. In the parts where she had to react to the wider company or the audience she really came alive, bringing real verve and charm to the role. As the trio of older ladies Valda Aviks, Marilyn Cutts & Gay Soper were wonderful – you really believed the friendship (and gentle competition!) between them. Joel Montague is delightful as the long-suffering Eddie, and Bruce Montague shines as the impresario Ziegfeld.
The company are great, and the dancing and chorus pieces are really nice. The use of props, scenery and lighting is charming – I loved the changes in perspective, taking us behind the scenes one minute and having us in the audience position the next. Everyone sounds in fine voice – at least I could hear the whole thing clearly!
In conclusion, I think Funny Girl is a good show, and another triumphant turn for Sheridan Smith. I just hope if I ever get to see it again, it won’t be with someone’s head taking up most of the stage. I’d love to return and review it properly at some point!
PS I’m aware this is all very ‘first world problems’, but manners get me, man.