Short Attention Spans & Internet Killed Off Wind???Date: 13 June 2008
“Gone With the Wind was supposed to have been the theatrical event of the year - what happened?” With Trevor Nunn’s epic musical adaptation of the classic Margaret Mitchell love story closing tomorrow (14 June 2008) after just 79 performances (See News, 31 May 2008), that’s a question being asked not just by theatregoers and industry pundits, but also by the company. In a heartfelt article published yesterday in the Guardian, cast member Ray Shell searches for his own answers.
Shell recalls how, when rehearsals started in February, the mood was upbeat. Though the “script that was almost five hours long”, there was a “world-class cast” and supreme confidence in Nunn, “the don of British theatre”. But successive cuts became a struggle as the 38-strong company resisted losing individual lines. Thanks to the immediacy and gossipy nature of the internet age, says Shell, “our fate was sealed” with the first preview, which was four hours and 20 minutes. “I went home that night to read damning comments on a blog called the West End Whingers: the knives were already out, sharp and bloody.”
Even after more dramatic cuts, the length of the piece caused problems for “an audience whose attention span has been frazzled and shrunk by the multimedia demands of the 21st century” and for the actors focused on “remembering to perform the correct, current version” on press night.
Still, Shell believes that, had they allowed for a longer rehearsal and preview period, crisis would have been averted. “Had we been able to delay opening for another two weeks, I'm certain we'd still be running … Gone With the Wind now runs at three hours ten minutes, with an interval. We get standing ovations every night, but this will not save us, and that makes me sad. I am proud of our work and know that, given time, we could have found our audience and given Cats and Les Mis a run for their longest-running-musical titles. The show we're now performing is not the one the critics saw, but we're still damned by those terrible reviews.”