the show goes on without Tennant

As reader BillM (and others) noted in comments, David Tennant has had to drop out of West End performances of Hamlet through at least Christmas. At first it was just a nonspecified “back injury” that forced him to miss one performance, then a second, then it was “out for weeks to recover from surgery for a slipped disc.”

The fanblog Totally Tennant reported yesterday — sans source — that “David’s surgery is done and the word is that all went well.”

In shocking breaking news, the Telegraph reports that fans are disappointed not to see Doctor Who to-being-or-not-to-being. Tennant’s understudy, Edward Bennett, who usually plays Laertes, stepped into the role, to mixed reviews — certainly none as good as Tennant’s worst reviews.

Now, I made a special trip to Stratford-on-Avon in September to see Tennant in Hamlet (and in Love’s Labour’s Lost), which I wouldn’t have done if Tennant hadn’t been appearing in the plays. On the other hand, I am an idiot, and hadn’t even realized that I’d been neglecting my loves of theater and of travel — which are, of course, easy to neglect when money is tight, as it has been for quite a while for me. That trip reminded me that I used to consider travel and theater essentials to my mental health, and forced me to figure out how to make sure I can get my recommended annual allowance of both. And so I’ve already got another trip to England planned — to London in February, with theater tickets to shows with no stars already purchased (though I’m not ruling out purchasing last-minute tickets to shows with stars once I’m on the ground in the West End). That trip means I have to sacrifice my attendence at the Boston science fiction conventions Arisia and Boskone this winter, which I’d been making a point of getting to for years, but that’s fine. I wish I could do it all, but I can’t. And that trip to Stratford and to the theater in the fall was so rejuvenating — not to mention enormously helpful as I try to expand my pop culture coverage to what’s happening in the U.K. — that the decision was easy.
It also means that I’ve already got tickets to several productions of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Fall 2009 slate in Stratford: I know what the plays are, but they haven’t even been cast yet. I don’t care: my Shakespeare gland has been reactivated, and must be accommodated. And I know that the RSC is worth seeing even without superstar actors… and when there are superstar actors featured in a production, they’re actors first and stars last.

Of course, if we’re all standing in bread lines come summer, the 2009 trip to Stratford will be off. But if not, I’ll figure out something else I can economize on to pay for that trip.

And then, I’d like to spend a stretch of a few months in England in 2010, by which time my Irish dual citizenship and accompanying European Union passport will have come through. But that’s a dream for another day.

Anyway, Tim Walker in the Telegraph is wondering whether it’s a good thing for the RSC to indulge in stunt casting, even if the actor stunt-cast is a damn fine actor as well as a big name. Walker attended a performance of Hamlet with Bennett in the lead role, and this is what he saw:

As the performance got under way, I heard a great many sighs and yawns from Tennant’s fans. That [director Greg] Doran seemed to expect these people, not one of them a natural theatregoer so far as I could see, to sit through almost four hours of Shakespeare without so much as a glimpse of their hero clearly seemed to them to be adding insult to injury.

Say what you like about how boring and contrived a play Equus might be, but at least the Harry Potter fans got to have a glimpse of Daniel Radcliffe’s little wand when that star vehicle opened in the West End. The Doctor Who fans who fought for their first-night tickets had got absolutely nothing for their money, and I doubt they will ever be able to forgive the RSC. There were a great many empty seats around me when the second act began – and no wonder. This was never really about theatre – only star-gazing – and theatre managements shouldn’t ever pretend otherwise.

Let those fans refuse to forgive the RSC, if they must — if they were really there only for Tennant, they were never going to come back anyway.

And hey: I’m off to see Equus on Broadway tonight (via discounted tickets, of course). It’s reportedly been playing to half-empty houses, even with a nude Daniel Radcliffe. So much for stunt casting.

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