Holiday heave-ho: more privacy pleas(e)Date: 9 April 2012
I can't remember the last time -- if ever -- I saw someone forcibly ejected from a theatre. Standards of ushering are so tame in the West End that the most an audience member might endure is a quiet word about taking a glass of wine from the foyer onto the pavement outside or a discreet "shush" for persistent talking in the stalls. Sometimes I yearn for a good old punch-up or fracas to liven things up.
Such scenes must have been rife in Shakespeare's day. At least it got livelier at Shepherd's Bush Empire on Friday night when, in the middle of a tight, noisy and highly impressive set by progressive Scouse rock group Cast, at the end of a reunion tour, a fight broke out in the arena and a burly blond guy was unceremoniously thrown out of the venue.
Two big bouncers got quickly into the middle of the fight, which was initially blurred as it happened during a raucous moshing binge, and picked up this chap and literally threw him, face down, through the side doors, and onto the pavement. And that was that. I imagine he stumbled off to A&E to get his nose put back together again. Lead singer John Power shouted, "If you're gonna kill yourselves, kill yourselves with love, you f......!" Huge cheer and much fist shaking.
The Empire, next door to the former Bush Theatre (and unlovely Irish pub) on Shepherd's Bush Green, is a beautiful little Frank Matcham theatre, and it still retains that early twentieth century atmosphere of the music hall where Charlie Chaplin appeared in 1906. The three gilded balconies are in reasonably good nick, but since the place is only used nowadays for rock concerts, the standards of maintenance in the public areas aren't that great.
In the 1950s, the Empire became famous again for forty years as the BBC Television Theatre, home of such classic programmes as Crackerjack, Hancock's Half Hour and Terry Wogan's chat show. But it surely thrives best as a live performance venue, and Cast's concert was enhanced by its perfect proportions and audience proximity.
There was also a most unusual finale, with a fantastic final number, using all sorts of adventurous amplifications, and ending with a ten minute drum solo that was as good as anything you ever heard from the greatest of percussionists, Buddy Rich or Ginger Baker.
It was a good weekend for dramatic ejections. Some show-off -- turns out he's an Australian "anti-elitist" protestor -- interrupted the Oxford and Cambridge boat race on the Thames by swimming into the path of the oncoming boats and following flotilla; he very nearly treated the millions watching on television to a live beheading as he got perilously trapped between the flashing oars.
Those flashing oars became clashing oars half an hour later, when the race was re-started, and one of the Oxford crew lost a blade and therefore the race, as you simply can't row a boat at full speed with just seven oars. The Oxford cox was inconsolable at the end, but it was all her fault, really, for not heeding the umpire's reiterated warning to move away from the Cambridge water.
The aquatic wet-suited intruder's name is Trenton Oldfield -- almost as good an old actor laddie moniker as Selsdon Mowbray in Noises Off -- and, once dragged to shore, he was promptly arrested. He'll no doubt enjoy his fifteen minutes of fame -- once he's been sentenced on a public disorder charge -- as a sport-hating suffragette, throwing himself in front of a boat instead of a racehorse.
Another urgent ejection was wished on a mouse spotted running around the stalls during The Duchess of Malfi last week, but the Old Vic fire officer told the Evening Standard that mouse sightings were "quite common"; which is why theatres have, or at least used to have, a theatre cat.
But "health and safety" regulations now restrict the presence of animals in theatres, so we must assume infestation is rife, or at least rifer than it was, throughout the West End. Bring back the cat, as the corporal punishment wallahs used to cry: we don't want to see squeaking theatre critics jumping onto their seats -- those of them that are fit enough to jump anywhere, that is -- during the next big opening along the Waterloo Road.
The celebrity circus is up in arms once more, or at least the Guardian is, on their behalf, at the news that a confidential network is feeding the paparazzi travel information about pop stars and royalty moving through airports.
Is that such a big surprise? How often do you see a celebrity hiding in rage from the lensmen lurking in the customs area? Certainly not Denise van Outen, the "victim" chosen by the newspaper to illustrate their outraged article; she looks remarkably pleased to be snapped.
And that's how it is in the "real" world of actors and film stars. Indeed, I know for a fact that many of them expect nothing less than a bevy of fawning paparazzi wherever they touch town in the world. And it's been common practice for years for airport PR staff to collaborate with actors and their publicity agents in this respect. David Niven used to throw a serious wobbly if he wasn't met with flashbulbs at Heathrow.
And when it comes to the broader issues of the Leverson enquiry into phone hacking and so on, can you really get all that agitated over the righteous "privacy" issues raised by the likes of Steve Coogan and Hugh Grant, even Charlotte Church and Sienna Miller?
Different matter, of course, when it involves political opponents, or ordinary citizens, let alone murder victims. But I for one hope that the new moral puritanism and perverse witchhunt going on at the moment won't deprive us, in the end, of the innocent pleasure of catching film stars and other celebrities off-guard while going about their everyday business of gulping down their essential oxygen of publicity.