TV audiences are wide-reaching, which is why it’s the perfect platform for promotional purposes. New album about to be released? TV interview! Got a new film coming out? TV interview! Autobiography now on sale? TV interview! There are plenty of people promoting these things on TV, but it’s not very often that screen time is given over to the promotion of theatre. New productions are opening in the West End all the time, with a higher turn-over of plays in contrast to musicals, which tend to have a longer running period. Outside of theatre circles though, the public don’t really hear a lot about them.
West End plays and musicals tend to get the TV treatment in promotional campaigns when a famous name is attached. Stars are invited onto chat shows and so forth to talk about their upcoming projects all the time, and if a celebrity is due to take to the stage in the West End, then the viewers get to hear all about it and a wider-ranging demographic is reached, which will hopefully result in a greater volume of people coming to see the play/musical. That’s the crux of promotion, and TV is a highly effective way to achieve the ultimate aim of putting bums in seats.
This past weekend, James McAvoy was a guest on the Saturday night chat show, The Jonathan Ross Show, where he spoke about his upcoming appearance in the West End. In January 2015, he makes his return to the stage starring in the play The Ruling Class at Trafalgar Studios, as part of the line-up for their Trafalgar Transformed season. During his interview on The Jonathan Ross Show, McAvoy spoke passionately about the play and it was apparent how fired-up he was about his latest stage role. The play hasn’t been staged for years, and as McAvoy said, it’s like performing in a brand new production, especially since it holds up with time and is just as relevant today as it was when it was written. It’s rather satisfying to see a actor who’s been in a long list of big-hit movies and part of a popular franchise like X-Men so excited about a stage role, which others would perhaps consider a step-down the career ladder. Live performance is much more of a challenge than film acting though, and there are many A-Listers who have taken to the stage while still in the prime of their career, with the express aim of challenging themselves as an actor/actress – and also because they were gripped by the role/work/writer, etc.
The Ruling Class is one of the productions to feature in the second season of Trafalgar Transformed, which programs a series of politically-charged, socially conscious theatre in the West End venue, Trafalgar Studios, sited in the heart of Whitehall. The aim is to reach a new and diverse audience, with particular focus on connecting with young people and those with limited access to the arts. They do this through the scheduled productions themselves, which are chosen with care and precision, as well as a reduced-price ticketing scheme which offers all seats in the auditorium at the fixed price of £15 for all Monday performances. Half of these are offered directly towards schools and first-time theatregoers by means of a special outreach program, with the other half made available to the general public on the first day of every month. There are also a range of accompanying Traf Extra events during the season, which includes fiery debates, masterclasses and rehearsed readings to encourage an open dialogue around the central issues of each productions, thus building a deeper relationship between the work and its audience.
Trafalgar Transformed began in 2013 following a refurbishment of the theatre’s auditorium, featuring a line-up of ‘dynamic, visceral and politically-charged’ productions that included Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse, which starred Simon Russell Beale and John Simm. McAvoy opened that first season playing the title role in a sell-out production of Macbeth; a performance which earned him an Olivier Award nomination. His follow-up appearance in The Ruling Class will instead conclude events, opening on 16th January 2015 and rounding off the second season with its final performance on 11th April 2015. Jamie Lloyd, Artistic Director of Trafalgar Studios, directs the first-ever revival of this classic play which was written by the Olivier Award-winning and Oscar-nominated writer, Peter Barnes. The cult comedy was originally staged in 1968, and four years later, adapted into a film version starring Peter O’Toole. James McAvoy will now star in the same role of Jack, a possible paranoid schizophrenic with a Messiah complex who inherits the title of the 14th Earl of Gurney following the death of his father in a bizarre accident. ‘Singularly unsuited to a life in the upper echelons of elite society, Jack finds himself at the centre of a ruthless power struggle as his scheming family strives to uphold their reputations’.
McAvoy is a Scottish actor who has starred in such films as Starter for 10, Atonement, Trance, Filth, and The Last King of Scotland, for which he won the BAFTA Scotland Award for Best Actor. He has also gained further popularity through his portrayal of a younger rendition of Charles Xavier (Professor X) in the X-Men movies, X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, a role is he set to reprise in the next instalment of the film franchise. He began his career on the stage however, making early appearances in such plays as Out In The Open (Hampstead Theatre, 2001) and Privates On Parade (Donmar Warehouse, 2002), and despite his rising success as a film actor, he has continually returned to the world of theatre. In 2009, he starred in Three Days of Rain at the Apollo Theatre before coming back last year for another stage stint, to play Macbeth in the 2013 production of the classic play at Trafalgar Studios.
The Ruling Class is the last in a trio of productions for Trafalgar Transformed: Season 2. The first show of the season was the production of Shakespeare’s Richard III, headlined by Martin Freeman and which was also directed by Jamie Lloyd. It ran from 1st July 2014 to 27th September 2014 and was followed by the revival of East Is East, which is still currently playing at Trafalgar Studios. The Sam Yates-directed production stars stage and screen actress Jane Horrocks alongside playwright and actor Ayub Khan Din, and following the end of its West End run on 3rd January 2015, is set to embark on a UK tour. Traf Extras for East Is East include Stories Unplugged: Open Mic Night and Diversity and the Arts – A Panel Discussion.
For promotion purposes, the much-debated subject of celebrity casting is nothing but a benefit to any production as they are able to reach so many more people. Of course, ‘stunt casting’ is more an issue when it comes to musicals, rather than plays, as singing is a huge part of that part of the industry and not every celebrity can measure up to a trained musical theatre performer in that respect. Trafalgar Studios has a respectable reputation in terms of the productions staged there, but it’s a reputation that doesn’t necessarily extend beyond theatre circles. Names such as McAvoy and Freeman will most likely attract a wider audience and be able to raise awareness of the venue and the quality productions running there throughout the Trafalgar Transformed season, which may well lead to converting a few more members of the public into theatre enthusiasts, and that’s always a good thing.
By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25
THE RULING CLASS
Friday 16 January 2015 – Saturday 11 April 2015
Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Thursday and Saturday 2.30pm
14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY