The Show Must Go On….
The old saying ‘the show must go on’ seems to have been taken literally as Toby Marlow, co-writer of Six, stepped into the role of Catherine Parr at the 28th July 2019 show. Due to sickness, injuries and cast holidays the co-writer stepped up and took to the stage for the first time in the show. Alongside him was Genesis Lynea as Cleves, who had starred in the workshop version of the show in Winter 2017/2018. Both performers, alongside the incredible other four regular members of the cast Jarneia Richard-Noel, Millie O’Connell, Courtney Stapleton and Aimie Atkinson, performed a unique concert-style version of the show much to the audience’s delight. This is not the first time that Six has run into difficulties. In December former Aragon, Renee Lamb, stepped back into the role to end the UK Tour in Glasgow and in April, owing again to injury, Genesis Lynea played the part of Cleves for two shows. This passion and commitment to ensuring that the audience get to see the show must be commended but it does beg the question… when is it actually better to cancel the show and allow the cast much needed recovery time?
The performance of Six on the 28th July was spectacular. Every single member of the cast and creative team truly worked tirelessly to ensure that a performance was put on and it was incredible to be part of the audience. A once in a lifetime experience. However at what cost? Six is brilliant at using its alternates and promoting them via social media to allow the cast to have ‘shows off’ and holidays. In fact it is very rare to actually see the whole ‘original’ queens. But clearly, given the high intensity of the show even with these holidays and shows off the performers are sometimes running on empty. With the addition of a new dance captain/understudy in August that will hopefully help to ensure the rest of the run goes smoothly but only time will tell if yet more previous cast members, or even creatives, will need to put on their crowns to save the day yet again.
It is not the first time that performers have stepped in at the last moment only last year in 2018 Steph Parry, who was starring in 42nd Street at the time, raced down the road to take on the role of Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia after an injury forced the actress, Caroline Deverill, offstage. Despite not being a member of the cast and having not performed the show for over a year, Steph Parry won the hearts of many theatregoers and quite literally saved the show. Similarly this year, when Louise Redknapp fractured her wrist in an accident just weeks before the launch of the new West End production of 9 to 5, Caroline Sheen stepped in and took over much to the praise from audiences and critics alike. It’s not just in the West End, but for the Rent: Live performance shown on Fox TV on the 27th January 2019 they had to use footage of the final dress rehearsal from the previous day after cast member, Brennin Hunt broke his foot during filming the show.
Of course, there are also performers whose whole careers have stemmed from the, perhaps, misfortune of others. If Judi Dench had not injured her ankle during rehearsals for the 1981 premiere production of Cats, Elaine Paige may not have gone on to become a household name for her performance as Grizabella. Equally, West End royalty Kerry Ellis was thrown into the spotlight after having to frequently cover Martine McCutcheon in the run of My Fair Lady in 2001 – without this her career could have run a different path.
It is stories like these that show just how dedicated the cast and creative teams are to ensuring that their show runs and entertains the audience. But at what cost? A cancelled show leads to frustrated, perhaps even angry, audience members; refunds and exchanges at a cost to the theatre and production and possibly even a backlash in social media. But by not cancelling shows, instead running on half capacity with cast members who are already under a lot of pressure both physically and mentally, will this cause further issues later on in the run? Performers will go to the ends of the earth to perform and do their very best in every performance but at what point do they need to listen to their bodies and just say no? Perhaps some production companies frown upon people taking time off, I’m sure we have all dreaded making the calling in sick phone call but sometimes there is just no other choice. I’m certain this is not the case with Six, but performers need to be confident to be able to take time off, to rest and therefore be able to deliver their best performance. Likewise, creative teams and production managers need to ensure that their cast are looked after, physically and mentally, and that they create a safe working space. It is vital to the careers of performers that they listen to their bodies, that they rest and allow themselves to acknowledge when they need time off. Without this they simply will burn out.
So if you do happen to have a show cancelled, or see a show which has had to be changed owing to cast indisposition know that the production team will have done everything within their power to put on the show. But also know, despite the disappointment and frustration, that it was necessary to cancel and actually by doing so perhaps the company is putting the needs of their cast first, therefore improving the quality of the production. Something as audience members we should all want.