This week has been all about Sheridan Smith. For those who might have been living under a rock for the past few days, Sheridan took a night off from playing Fanny Brice in the sold out run of Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory to be with her father who had been diagnosed with Cancer. Fans took to Twitter to express their disappointment that they would not be seeing Sheridan perform on stage and would instead be watching her understudy. Sheridan did a random act of kindness and offered to pay for unhappy fans to come and see her in the show when it transfers to the Savoy Theatre. She even offered back stage passes and to pay travel expenses so fans could see her in the show.
Sheridan Smith was praised for her generosity and kindness, something which she was certainly not expected to do and the show’s producers later released a statement saying tickets would indeed be exchanged for other shows. However, Live Theare UK have now published an article with a very different point of view, ‘what about her understudy’?
Natasha J Barnes (Sheridan Smith’s understudy) must have been elated when she got the call to say she would be performing the role of Fanny Brice in Sheridan’s absence, something she probably wasn’t expecting to get a chance to do. All her hard work learning the role would not have been for nothing! The role of an understudy is there for these exact reasons. If an actor gets sick or is unable to perform at certain performances, the understudy steps in so the show can go on. Live Theatre’s article, titled ‘Don’t Rain On Their Parade’ suggests that by offering to replace fans tickets to the show whilst Sheridan was off, the message being sent to the understudy was “you are on so we are essentially giving full refunds to people and letting them come back another night you are not on”.
As they say in the show Funny Girl, “when people pay good money in the theatre they want something to look at” – but what exactly are they paying to look at? Are we paying to see a certain performer or a show? Fanny Brice will be Fanny Brice whether the woman standing on the stage is Sheridan Smith or her understudy.
There are two types of people that will book to see a show which has celebrity casting:
1. Those who want to see the star that has been cast in a role
2. Those who just want to see the show.
Those who want to see the show will be happy to watch an understudy perform but those who have gone out of their way to see a particular person like Sheridan Smith are entitled to be a little disappointed if she isn’t there.
If Sheridan wants to put her hand in her pocket and fork out for tickets for her fans to see her perform at a later date, what’s wrong with that? What a lovely thing she has done for her fans. There will always be theatre lovers who will be more than happy to watch an understudy perform but her fans aren’t going to the theatre for any reason but to see her. We should just hope that by Sheridan bringing her fans in to the theatre to see the show, they might leave the venue with a hop in their step and a desire to go to the theatre more often. That is where celebrity casting can be a magical thing.
Buy tickets to see Sheridan Smith (or her understudy) in Funny Girl at the Savoy Theatre in London’s West End
Photo: Marc Brenner