In the title role in Nottingham Playhouse‘s revival of Alan Bennett‘s The Madness of George III, Mark Gatiss delivers a breathtaking, stunning, dazzling star turn.
Well, delivered, it’s closed now. Lucky you, that means you’ll get to see Mr. Gatiss’s marvellous performance via one of the NT Live Encore screenings, which would have to be a more enjoyable experience than visiting the Nottingham Playhouse. I’ve had asthma attacks that were more enjoyable than visiting the Nottingham Playhouse.
Unfortunately when the overall experience of visiting a theatre is thoroughly unpleasant for reasons that have nothing to do with anything on the stage, it makes it difficult to write a fair review. I’ve sat on this for a couple of weeks – I saw the production at the matinée on November 22nd – and I’ve simmered down a bit, but I’m afraid the impression the theatre gave me from their staff’s behaviour outside the auditorium – I won’t be going back there anytime soon – left a stronger taste than the production itself.
I could start with the casual, offhanded rudeness of the woman behind the box office counter when I picked up my ticket – I’ve done my share of crap customer service jobs, I know perfectly well that people in those positions are underpaid and overworked and usually way overqualified and I certainly don’t expect bowing and scraping, but the least you can do is look up when someone speaks to you instead of handing over the ticket without pausing for breath in your not-work-related conversation with your colleague.
It didn’t add to the experience, either, that rows A, B, and C in the stalls were lacking any signage indicating that they were rows A, B, and C, which led to a certain amount of confusion as people took their seats for the performance. By this time, though, I’d already visited the café, which means any inclination I might have had to give the venue the benefit of the doubt had long since evaporated.
The Playhouse café looks quite nice, doesn’t it? Missing from the description on the website is the chief decorative feature the day of my visit: two small (and admittedly extremely cute) puppies in a hamster cage on the floor next to the drinks fridge. They were very small puppies, true, but they were in a hamster cage. They did not appear to be in distress, and I admit I didn’t take a photograph or phone the RSPCA – but while I’ve never kept dogs myself, I’m not aware of that being the recommended daytime environment for even a very small puppy, never mind two of them. They’d got what had clearly been a water dish, but – being puppies – they had somehow managed to upend it. It contained no water, and one of them was chewing it. As I said, they did not appear to be in distress, but I found the sight startling.
I found it startling enough that I was going to say something, but the lady behind me in the queue got there first, and asked the young woman behind the counter whether the dogs were OK. The question was asked perfectly politely, and out of genuine (and reasonable) concern, and this relatively mild inquiry was met with what I can only describe as a full-blown temper tantrum, delivered as subtext. She managed to restrain herself from offering the full Violet Elizabeth Bott, for which I suppose we should all be thankful, but she did manage to grind out a terse “they’re fine” while simultaneously conveying her fervent hope that anybody who dared express their concern for these poor animals would die a protracted and painful death, preferably right in front of her and with a video replay afterwards. Before she turned her back we were treated to a volley of the kind of glares that could precipitate a new ice age, and this was accompanied by a great deal of theatrical tensing of shoulders and banging of dishes. She was clearly Not Pleased, and intended to put some effort into showing it.
By this time I’d got to the front of the queue, and was trying to order my lunch from her colleague/partner on the till. If anything, he radiated even more hostility; I tried to order their set lunch – £8.25 for a ‘lunch item’, a side dish, and a dessert. That’s a good deal… if you get it. First the gentleman tried to charge me something over £14 for it – a sum that could not be arrived at by adding the prices of the individual item I’d asked for as the ‘lunch item’ – a piece of quiche – and the drink on my tray, or by adding the cost of the lunch deal and the drink on my tray, or by adding together any possible combination of the things I was in the process of trying to order. Far be it from me to suggest that someone is systematically trying to overcharge customers who they think are in a hurry and won’t notice… but it very much looked like someone was systematically trying to overcharge customers who they think are in a hurry and won’t notice. When I pointed out that the total was incorrect, he made a great show of voiding the transaction and starting again, as if asking not to be overcharged by over a fiver made me unusually difficult. When I asked what the side salads were, Ms. Violet Elizabeth Bott, Keeper of Dogs, served the list of salad options with another side order of I-hope-you-die, and when I asked for the chickpea and couscous salad she walloped a spoonful of it into a dish and then slammed it down on the counter in front of me with a force that measured on the Richter scale. The quiche and salad were delivered without cutlery or a napkin; the ‘lunch deal’ includes a dessert item, and I wasn’t even given the chance to order it. As soon as Ms. Sense-Of-Entitlement-Has-Its-Own-Postcode slammed the salad down in front of me, she and her colleague turned their backs on me and got on with the serious business of ruining somebody else’s day.
Now, sure, I should have made a scene, made a noise, demanded what I’d paid for. It was about 45 minutes until showtime, I’d been out of the house since 7.30am, my day had already included a flu jab and a two-hour journey on East Midlands Trains, and at that point I just wanted to get out of there. I had a plastic spoon in my bag so I wasn’t reduced to eating the chickpea and couscous salad with my fingers; I ate the quiche with the spoon too, because any alternative would have involved another conversation with the rampaging egomaniacs behind the counter. No thank you.
And to add insult to insult, the quiche had a soggy bottom.
Of course the result of all of this is that by the time the lights went down I wasn’t in anything close to the right mood to appreciate Mark Gatiss’s flawless performance as the King, Adrian Scarborough‘s equally superb performance as Dr. Willis, the gallery of superb supporting turns from, well, just about everybody, but particularly from Debra Gillett as the Queen and from Louise Jameson as the duplicitous Dr. Warren, who treats the King but reports her observations to the opposition. Director Adam Penford delivers a solid revival with a handsome set (by Robert Jones) of unfolding palace walls and an exceptional cast – but if every other aspect of your visit to the theatre puts you in a terrible mood before you’ve even walked into the auditorium, you might as well stay home.
And certainly after this experience I don’t feel inclined to give any more of my money to the Nottingham Playhouse. After the performance I sought out the bar/restaurant manager; he was horrified and very apologetic – as he should have been – but it’s easy to be apologetic after the event: this is how these people feel empowered to behave towards his customers, under his supervision. Part of me thinks it’s unfair to tar the production with problems arising from peripheral aspects of the experience, but unfortunately the peripheral stuff was unpleasant enough that it turned what should have been a good day out into a distinctly lousy one. At the very least, it’s crystal clear that the Nottingham Playhouse’s front-of-house “management” – and that word is an act of great charity on my part – have no grip at all on the overall visitor experience in their venue.
One more thing: I should probably have said this further up, but I’ll say it now. If you choose to assume responsibility for a domestic animal, it is incumbent upon you to make sure you have made adequate arrangements for that animal’s safety and comfort during your working day, and indeed during any time you spend away from your home. There are no circumstances – NO circumstances – in which providing “adequate arrangements” for the care of two puppies may include shutting them in a hamster cage and then dumping it on the floor in a corner of your workplace (and it doesn’t say much for the Nottingham Playhouse that they allowed staff to do this on their premises). If you can’t manage to provide an adequate environment for animals in your care, you have NO BUSINESS taking them into your care in the first place. And if your response to a sincere, polite expression of concern about two puppies in a hamster cage is a Technicolor hissy fit, then never mind live animals: you aren’t even mature enough to be responsible for the care of a Tamagotchi.