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Shouts and Murmurs – May 14, 2024

Hello, and welcome to Shouts And Murmurs, a weekly email for paid supporters of The Crush Bar, written by me, Fergus Morgan.

Every week, I round up the best theatre writing elsewhere – reviews, interviews, opinion, long-reads – plus any other interesting or inspiring theatre stuff I find. At the moment, you can read the top section for free, but you have to pay me £5/month or £50/year – or just email me, if that seems a bit steep – if you want to read the quality content on the other side of the paywall.

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This week: a ramble about Fawlty Towers and the Edinburgh Fringe; review round-ups of Spirited Away, Punch, Maggie and Me, and other shows; some more links for you to click on, interviews to read, articles to browse, and theatrical brainworms for you to let into your head.

Thanks for reading The Crush Bar, as always. If you want to do me one more favour, then you can share this newsletter far and wide and encourage others to subscribe via the button below.

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Previously in The Crush Bar:

Why can’t people leave stuff alone?

This question circulates in my head on a weekly basis, usually as I settle down to write a review round-up for The Stage (regular bits I do in which I read all the major critics’ thoughts on a big opening, then precis them using as much alliteration and rhyme as possible) of the latest cynical movie-to-musical adaptation. I think I have probably used the phrase “but does it successfully slide from screen to stage?” about fifty times in the last three years. I will soon be using it twice more with stage versions of Withnail and I and Fawlty Towers arriving. I know, for every Time Traveller’s Wife there’s a My Neighbour Totoro, but there’s not, is there? It is more like for every ten Pretty Womans (Pretty Women?), there’s one Boys From The Blackstuff. I’d like to see the maths: I am convinced that spreading money across a range of exciting original projects is a better investment than chucking it all at a recognisable title. And surely you’d rather have a Six or an Operation Mincemeat on your hands? But I guess I’m wrong!

Either way, is nothing sacred? I find the Fawlty Towers thing particularly egregious. For decades, the sitcom has been the paradigm of quitting while you’re ahead. They made 12 great episodes then stopped, preserving its status as a comedy classic. Until now, when John Cleese needs to squeeze as much money out of his career as possible to pay for his £17,000-a-pop stem cell treatment. “This is about getting myself a nest egg, so I can get a place in the sun,” he told The Times, saying the quiet bit loud. Just another should-be national treasure destroyed through their own awfulness. Sad.

On the other hand, why can’t people not leave stuff alone? I ask because I am increasingly concerned that there is not going to be West End transfers of Cold War, Conor McPherson and Elvis Costello’s breathtakingly beautiful Almeida Theatre adaptation (hypocrite, moi?) of Pawel Pavlikowski’s 2018 film, and of Beth Steel’s Till The Stars Come Down, which several critics hailed as the play of the year when it premiered at the NT in February. I saw the former and I’d like to see it again. I missed the latter and am now worried that both will go the way of Fun Home, Romantics Anonymous, and A Mother’s Song. Come on, commercial producers. To quote, um, George RR Martin: “There is no justice in this world, not unless we make it.” (I thought that was Hamlet. Turns out it’s Game Of Thrones. Embarrassing for me.)

The question that bothered me most last week, though: why can’t people leave me alone? Last week, there was a flurry of Edinburgh Fringe announcements: Paines Plough, Summerhall, Pleasance, and Gilded Balloon revealed a bunch of stuff, as did dozens of other venues and theatremakers. I got a million emails in the space of 24 hours from PRs, producers and artists, some of which contradicted each other and all of which urged me to find somewhere to shout about their stuff. Then I was paid not-a-lot to distil them all into something that made some sort of sense, alongside writing a load of other stuff. I’ve been told by trusted advisors that I’ve done too much moaning in this top section recently, so you won’t find any self-pity here. Not a bit. Let’s just say it was one of the more stressful days I’ve had doing this weird job.

If you’ll allow me to segue smoothly into A Wider Point About Theatre, though, then I’ll say this: the Fringe is, for me, the very best and very worst of the industry. It is the industry at its most extraordinarily open and imaginative and at its most heartless, demanding and rapacious. As it rears its head, preparing to chomp down on any free time I have in August again, I’d like to politely request that everyone involved calms down a bit (including myself) and really focuses on the former. I’d like to ask that the post-Covid conversation about boundaries that has gained traction inside the rehearsal room (you know the one: no last-minute demands, no emails after midday on Fridays, and no microwaving fish) be extended to the rest of the industry, too, including this bit. Otherwise, we may as well cancel the whole thing, quit theatre, and let Graham Linehan do his grimly inevitable stage adaptation of Father Ted after all.

Free subscribers to The Crush Bar receive these emails every Friday. Paid supporters also receive Shouts and Murmurs on Tuesdays.

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