Where are all the groundlings?

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“I went to Cambridge and I can’t understand it!” she booms at her cushion-faced husband – and most of the theatre. Dear me. My old class prejudice kicks in.

We zip past croaking, sodden beggars, zoom into the plush theatre, vertigo to the upper circle, acquire a rip-off programme and brush up on a little plot background. So does a rather well upholstered woman behind us.

“I went to Cambridge and I can’t understand it!” she booms at her cushion-faced husband – and most of the theatre. Dear me. My old class prejudice kicks in.

“Think what it’s like for us redbrick folk, us groundlings!” the wife prevents me from yelling.

“Remember we’re out!” Indeed.

But, whenever we’re out at these places, they seem to be replete with such shrill idiots. You don’t get them at QPR or the Odeon. Here, they seem to rule. White. Middle class. Elderly. Smug. There’s a terrific absence of people who are not. Groundlings are a bit thin on the ground.

The play is wonderful. Mark Rylance’s Duke of Gloucester is a sort Machiavellian Frankie Howard, whose hobbies happen to include the serial killing of various lords and tiny children – and putting the frighteners on the front row, especially when he offers a little boy his dead, withered hand. The boy finds it dead funny. How my old pupils would have loved this! 

Decibelle would have shrieked and Dave Mania would have relished being Outmania-ed. “Respect!” But my pupils, modern groundlings, are quite absent. They can’t afford to be here and probably feel they don’t belong in a theatre. A real shame. An interval occurs. The bar clinks with double gins and chins – and tedious opinion.

“Rylance has a real presence, if slightly mannered ... not quite as compelling as McKellen or Sher or Olivier…”

Aaargh! Shut up! Please! The Cambridge lady still seems to have lost the plot. Her partner observes that the queen looks a bit like a man. That’s because he is a man. It’s an all-male production. Clot. The second half is even better. We experience shivers of pity and fear. Well, not all of us. The cushion-faced husband is prised awake by the prolonged ovation.

Theatre this good should be available on the National Health – or the National Curriculum. Fat chance. Not with the new philistine EBacc. There’ll be no money for the “soft subjects” like drama. I’m sure Mark Rylance regrets these things. Perhaps he could be persuaded to put the frighteners on my Lords Gove, Adonis and Osborne.  

 


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