Theatre? I’d rather watch a movie — Steven Lee

Crikey, I’ve just been told that my blog has to be a multi-parter. The suits are hoping for three parts. I said I’d do a part two and see how we go.

So here it is, a little piece on why we love theatre – or why we would if we just tried it.

Santa in red suit, hat and white beard dances on stage with a Christmas fairy on the festive set of Santa In Love
Santa in Love – on tour in December

So first off I want to say this… Your theatre is not just for Christmas.

Come on, you know what I mean. In spite of all your good intentions, you probably only go to the theatre on one or two occasions. And if it’s only one occasion, then that occasion is almost certainly pantomime.

It’s tradition. As part of being British as roast beef and yorkshire puddings — or perhaps more appropriately, turkey with all the trimmings.

But theatre is there for you the whole year round and what’s more, if you enjoy your pantomime then here’s the good news: it gets better! Often, dare I say, waaaaay better.

A close up of two actors on stage with near life size soft teddybear toys on the set of I Spy With My Little Eye
I Spy with My Little Eye, currently on tour

I mean, pantomime will entertain you with some great sketches and set pieces, framed by a story you know and trust, but over the course of the next eleven months there will be other stories on at your local theatre that will surprise you, delight you, and move you in ways you could barely imagine.

I get it though, investing in theatre tickets can seem like a risk, particularly when the alternative is that blockbuster on at the cinema, or something on subscription TV that stars your favourite actor.

And yet…

And yet consider your real-life experience of TV and film.

I would put it to you that out of every 10 new TV shows or movies you invest your time in, you end up liking maybe three or four of them. With theatre that number would be closer to eight. And there’s a reason for that.

In TV and film you record your story and then put it straight in front of people. There’s little to no interaction with an audience once it’s in the cinema or their front room, and after it’s been recorded and edited it never changes. Theatre, on the other hand, is a live experience.

Steven and two other actors on the set of There Was An Old Lady who Swallowed A Fly
On the set of There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly

If an actor says a line and it doesn’t land well, he’ll tweak it for the next performance; if a scene isn’t getting the right response, it will be scratched or redrafted. There’s even a phrase within the theatre industry: “Great shows aren’t written, they’re rewritten”.

I rewrite all the time. I rewrite to fit the strengths of my cast, to keep up with the times, and to generally improve my audience’s experience.

It’s why premieres can be so much fun (because things go wrong) and why you can go to see the same show over and over again and have a different experience each time – as casts change, as the mood within the auditorium changes, and as the show itself evolves.

To be clear, I’m in no way rubbishing movies and telly. Some of my greatest ever entertainment experiences have come via a screen. I’m just saying that as a proportion of satisfying to disappointing experiences, the theatre will always outperform the screen.

The North Pole Team (Santa in red suit and white beard flanked by an elf and a Christmas fairy) on stage in Santa In Love
Way better than panto: Santa in Love

So next time you’re considering some entertainment, take a moment to reflect on the odds. That new show on Netflix might be great, but there’s every chance there’s a better option on at your local theatre.

And, of course, you already know where it is. You were there for panto.