What can we reasonably expect from the people we go and see on stage?
It’s a subject that’s been on my mind recently, since curiosity got the better of me and I went to see I Dreamed A Dream, the Susan Boyle musical, which is obviously not your usual SevenStreets fayre. But it got me thinking all the same.
Boyle was scheduled – but never guaranteed – a cameo appearance at the end, and, as the tour continues, seems to be picking and choosing whether to bother on a nightly basis. As she was papped outside Liverpool tourist destinations during her stay but did not fulfil all her duties at the Empire, it was hard to say what reason there could possibly have been for her no-shows.
Is there ever any excuse for just not turning up?
The show, the story of Boyle’s incredible rise to international fame via Britain’s Got Talent, is generally hackneyed and forgettable (despite some great reviews). But if you’re waiting for the woman of the hour, there are alarm bells throughout.
It covers its back to some extent by having the character of her manager recall to the audience the time the singer became so upset ahead of a live performance, because he was such a nice guy, he told her she didn’t have to go on if she didn’t want to. This seemed at once like a dreadful omen as much as an insurance policy in case she hadn’t turned up to guest star in her own show.
I appreciate there’s lots we don’t know. The effects of Boyle’s learning difficulties have to be taken into account; and yes, I’m sure the anxiety of stage fright is no joke. But then, there’s rumours of diva behaviour; and there’s the responsibility to the fans that have paid good money in the hope of seeing you sing. What entertainer would underestimate the importance of that?
Even Axl Rose, who plays the Echo Arena later this month, has the good sense to turn up to his own gigs eventually. Waiting for Guns n’ Roses until you’ve half a mind to cut your losses and bugger off home is practically part of the experience.
And it’s experience, or a lack of it, that could be the problem for today’s overnight sensations.
“In almost any other genre of performance, the people who have got to the top, even if you don’t like them, have done it by repeating what they do over and over again, nearly always on a small, anonymous scale and it gets bigger as time goes by,” explains Liverpool-based actor and musician Mike Neary.
“This can happen quickly, but never before has somebody found themselves with the responsibility of absolute top flight stamina – bear in mind the ticket prices, touring schedule, audience size – with no clue of what anything other than a quick fix involves. The weird thing about Susan Boyle and other quick fix stars is that they have already had the prize before the game is up.”
Angie Waller is an actress and singer who performs with comedy groups Impropriety and Clittingham Avenue among others. “As a performer it’s very insulting for people who aren’t in the trade to think that what we do is easy and that anyone can do it,” she says.
“I also completely object to the ‘talent’ shows where becoming famous is the only thing that the contestants desire. I have no problem in real talent being discovered, but if you put non-trained performers into a highly trained form — you’ve got to expect them to not be up to the job.”
She adds: “There’s no problem with performers being recording artists only… think Kate Bush. Personally, I would hate that! Part of the joy of performing is doing it live — but not everyone thinks like that.”
So is Boyle the victim? Or did she owe her audience more? Not just the audience in fact, but the beleaguered front-of-house staff forced to deal with angry and disappointed fans who feel they’ve been fleeced. Is it a swizz, or should she be treated with sympathy? It’s really hard to say.
The harsh reality of the overnight success, a concept taken into hyperdrive in these days of X Factor YouTube clips, has a lot to answer for.