Patricia Routledge, most famously known for her television role as Hyacinth Bucket in the 90’s television sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, made a rare appearance at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester last night to chat to Edward Seckerson about her extensive stage career. According to reports, Patricia took the opportunity to express her disappointment in how it is becoming the norm for leading actors in theatre shows to only do a portion of the performances each week.
She said “it’s dreadful how a performer will only do 6 or maybe 5 shows a week and the audience doesn’t get to see the billed name. As a performer you train, it’s obligatory, you build your stamina and live like a nun, it’s a discipline.”
Protecting an actors health is important and some stage shows require a huge amount of energy and vocal power but if theatre used to survive without alternate performers, why do they now seem to be becoming the new normal? Is it due to vocal health or just because actors want an easier life? If someone is not vocally strong enough to do eight shows per week, then should they have been cast in the role at all?
Alternates are popping up here, there and everywhere these days which personally, I think is fine, so long as schedules are publicly published. For example, is it fair to book tickets to Dreamgirls, billed as starring American TV star Amber Riley, when really she only performs at (a maximum of) five out of eight shows per week? If the posters for a show are selling tickets based on a particular performer, is it fair that they are not intended to perform on certain days of the week (and these days are not made clear to people at the time of booking)?
If a theatre role is shared, whether it be one performance per week or several, should a show be allowed to promote itself as starring one person in particular? And should cast lists on theatre websites more clearly label alternates and exactly what days they are scheduled to perform? Or should productions only be casting one person for each leading role and expect them to ‘live like a nun’ in order to be able to perform at every show?