Teriann and I have been to three shows in one week: Oliver (with Mr Bean as Fagin!) last Wednesday, La Clique on Sunday, and Mamma Mia tonight.
The verdict is in: London theatre is not hacking it. While Oliver was mostly very good, there was a character that clearly could not sing his role (why then, one must ask, was he cast in it?); La Clique was very entertaining but wasn't traditional theatre — certainly no singing; Marguerite, which we saw all the way back in September featured the worst performer in a leading role I've ever seen —professional, community, or high school; and tonight's show was one of the most bizarre theatre experiences I've ever had.
Not even one or two, but most of the actors were not professional caliber. Solid enough for community theatre, I suppose, but you don't pay 30+ pounds for the cheap seats in community theatre. The sound was poorly balanced. The spotlight operator was either new to his job or drunk. The whole production came to a grinding halt five or ten minutes in when they couldn't get one of the set pieces to move. The best part of the show by far was after the initial curtain call when the director dropped all pretense of a paper-thin story and just had the cast dance and sing ABBA's hits. 'Waterloo' — which I was under the impression was one of the most popular songs from the show — wasn't even sung in the course of the story, and was tacked on in this sing-a-long of sorts. Given how lazily most of the other songs were wedged into the story, why not another popular, peppy one? And these afterthoughts were choreographed with much greater care than the 'stand there and sing' approach taken to the rest of the show.
And our fellow theatregoers... I could moan for ages about this, but let me keep it short: usually, when I go to the theatre, I am refreshed by the number of like-minded, civilized people gathered to share in a communal experience. Not so tonight. On my left, a pair of women that would comment on the action in normal conversatory volume; on my right, a man who munched on corn nuts and (I'm not exaggerating) answered his cell phone during the first act; behind us, a family from Spain who was under the impression that the audience was encouraged to sing along with the numbers they knew, including a 7-ish-year-old girl who was constantly jumping, kicking my seat, and at one point swatting the back of my head; in front of me (as I said, we were in the cheap seats), the theatre was liberally peppered with the sort of tottering folks who clap with the music whenever it's even mildly catchy. Hmm... I kept that as short as I could.
The moral of the story: the West End is no Broadway. Be thankful for theatre in New York and the touring shows that go through Phoenix. In seeing dozens of those shows, I've never once come across the sort of disappointments that I'm learning are all too common in British theatre.