VIEWS: The audience problem…..

What has happened to audiences? Just look at these social media posts from actors.

From Mark Isherwood, JERSEY BOYS, London
From Sam Tutty, DEAR EVAN HANSEN, London

Just last week, a child wandered on to the stage at the Young Vic during the cast’s curtain calls for OKLAHOMA! and started distributing flowers to the cast members. A few saw it as cute, some saw it as the ultimate example of parental pressure. Others, myself included saw it as a dangerous situation, the latest example of disrespect shown to the acting profession by audiences that have lost their understanding of their place within the performance. Anti-social audience behaviour is the burning issue in theatre today.

Disruptive, drunken and other sorts of anti-social behaviour is certainly not a new problem, but it is definitely on the rise, according to the number of social media messages sent out by Beverley Knight at THE DRIFTERS’ GIRL admonishing drunk audience members (December 2021), Mark Isherwood at JERSEY BOYS London (March 2022), Producer Katy Lipson chastising an audience member for lighting a spliff halfway into GET UP STAND UP (the Bob Marley musical), Sam Tutty at DEAR EVAN HANSEN highlighting illegal behaviour (April 2022) and the brilliant Anna-Jane Casey praising the Front of House staff for their handling of drunks at her show CABARET (May 2022), to name just a few.

From Anna-Jane Casey, CABARET, London

So what is going on? There are two key problem areas- the structure of theatre operations, and the state of mind of the audiences they serve.

The system of theatre attendance encourages drinking to a deadline (short incoming, short interval), which encourages fast drinking and taking more alcohol into the auditorium for during the show. Theatres are at least part of the problem here, even if they rail at this truth – they make a lot of profit on drink, so they will be the last to discourage this. Audiences know the price of alcohol and see the markup- let’s be honest, it’s why a lot of people smuggle their own booze in.

So an excess of alcohol leads to anti-social behaviour and lack of consideration for other theatregoers, which leads me to another significant but as yet unexplored point – how many theatregoers are so put off by others behaviour that they decide to stop going, or reduce their trips to the theatre. What are the unseen costs to audience development?

While we wait for more data on these areas, let’s come back to the core issue- behaviour. Why are we seeing an escalation in inappropriate behaviour? I asked Neuroscience-based therapist Juan Carlos Gouveia to explain what’s going on. Here’s his take:

“We have now had over two years of Covid disruption to our regular routines, ones which many of us had been settled into for years, even decades. which has caused many different impacts. On the personal level, people have been experiencing a more challenging than usual range of feelings such as fear, loneliness, anxiety, uncertainty, self-doubt, depression, lack of control, to name just a few. They have also had fewer opportunities to share or discuss these feelings with others. In this societal trauma, many have been left to figure out how to cope with it entirely alone

As we have seen in what is being called The Great Resignation, people have also taken time to re-evaluate their lives, goals and dreams, and decided to make major changes in their life, which is great. But these were the changes they were in charge of, not the ones they had no control over, which are the ones we are focusing on here.

Societal guidance on our interactions shape our behaviours subtly, often imperceptibly. The sudden drop in societal interactions from mid- March 2020 brought with it a corresponding drop in societal guidance. All of a sudden, we had fewer reactions to judge ourselves off of. We all became less connected. And one of the many downsides of that lack of interconnectedness is that with no-one, or vastly fewer people to judge us, we became acclimatised to doing what we wanted, irrespective of whether that impacted on others.

Put simply, this often means that when people started to go out again, to reintegrate with society once more, they had lost or forgotten the guidelines on what was acceptable behaviour. In one sense, we had forgotten how to behave.

A habit only takes 21 days to establish itself in our mind and then become the “new normal”. Covid has lasted over 21 months, so I think you can see that the road back from this pandemic is going to take years rather than months as people re-learn their way out of isolation.

One of the fundamental human needs is Belonging. This is expressed in many different ways, sometimes it’s about your environment and circumstances, where you feel comfortable, finding people with whom you have things in common. So it may be your family, friends, theatregoers, sports supporters, workplace friendships, and many more. We all need a sense of belonging to an extent.

Covid has severely disrupted this sense of belonging. We started working from home, seeing colleagues rarely if at all, and then by Zoom. People changed the way they dressed- if nobody saw your pajama bottoms they were ok, right? But this was just the start. We have had to navigate restrictions on who we could see/visit, theatres, galleries and sports being shut down, family and friends in hospital being unvisitable, and when loved ones died we were denied the usual methods of contact, comfort and rightful marking of their passing which we had known all our lives prior to this time. Trauma is not too strong a word for what so many have been through.

Our behaviour is moderated by the society within which we operate. Although we may not realise it, those around us help us to regulate our behaviours. And when the majority of that societal contact was lost, along with it was lost the imperceptible little checks and balances we performed upon our own behaviour, from taking cues from others about what was- and what was not acceptable.

When we exist in our own echo chamber of thoughts, unrelieved and unregulated by open discussion and the views of friends, we are likely to become more extreme and inflexible in our thinking, which actually makes the road back all that harder to walk.

I think it’s fair to say that most people celebrated when theatres, cinemas and sports returned. But the return of theatre audiences was one which theatre owners – and especially theatre staff – looked on with mixed feelings. This long enforced absence, coupled with a real sense of anxiety and the underlying fact that things aren’t truly “back to normal”, has meant that behaviour is often out of sync or misjudged – or plain inappropriate, which is causing annoyance, upset, distress and hostility.

When disruption of the theatre event occurs now, the rest of the audience are, to a greater or lesse extent, triggered, most likely in proportion to their proximity to the disruption. The unexpected event reminds us of those things which are not in our control, and our anxiety response, which has already been elevated by Covid for a very long period of time, is heightened yet again. This may cause unexpected reactions, as we are more liable to respond via our emotional mind, (which is the larger part- 90% -of our mind) rather than our logical mind. Audience members may complain vocally or respond in ways which might not have been expected before. If there is some sign that a calming or dealing with the situation is happening, that will help to calm the reaction rippling out from the event. – and this is where our theatre teams are performing so well.

Now that many people are trying to resume their pre-Covid lives, they find themselves changed in ways that even they did not realise or understand. It will take our society considerable time to come to terms with how we have all changed. One thing is for certain – we will never be quite the same as we were before.”

It is clear from Juan Carlos Gouveia’s interesting and insightful analysis that action needs to be taken. Boundaries need to be re-drawn and enforced. The old stage door clamouring where artists are “expected” to be available to the public have been suspended due to Covid – and hopefully will never return. The false impression that audiences have bought anything except a ticket to the stage experience must be discouraged and disincentivised. Performers are people with right to live their private lives offstage unmolested.

In all this discussion, let us not forget those who have to deal with this, the theatre’s Front of House staff. Together with security support, they have done a fantastic job in trying to direct audiences by example, being pleasant, courteous and helpful wherever possible. They truly deserve an award from the theatre industry for the part they have played in positive recovery. But even they, thinly stretched as they are, cannot be expected to police hundreds of audience members each. It is incredibly difficult in practical terms.

Let’s also remember that the blurring of event types hasn’t helped too. This is something that producers have been complicit in over the years as they aimed to maximise their audiences. Expectations of audience behaviour at a pop concert and a pantomime are quite different to a traditional theatre show, and so those who go to see, say, a musical may not be quite clear how they are expected to behave. I suggest it is down to producers and theatres to advise- and enforce.

Let’s just return to that incident last week with a child walking on stage to hand roses to each of the OKLAHOMA! company. This is simply acceptable. Sure, when unexpected things go wrong the actors handle it as best they can, but dammit they have enough going on without having to deal with the child of (most probably) overly-pushy parents. In a production props move, actors move, scenery moves. That is why the audience sits away from the action. Because it can be dangerous – people can get hurt. Actors cannot also be security guards and police the stage area, it is not right or fair to ask them to do so.

Let’s not forget that actors have had their own struggle in this time, where work was denied to them for long periods, and where even now many are struggling to find work again. This new anxiety of the stage not being a safe space to practice their art is an unacceptable burden to place upon them.

Nobody knows more than me the disruption that can be caused to a West End show by an invader from the audience. I myself was attacked live on stage by a very drunken audience member that my FOH team and I had to get off stage so that the star would continue with the show. But I’ll tell you that story another day.

Now I do appreciate that the people who engage in this type of disruptive behaviour are in a tiny minority- perhaps 5% who appear to have lost any sense of respect for themselves or others. There have always – and always will be- selfish people who don’t care whose night out they ruin with their stupidity.

Perhaps some audience members do not realise how damned hard theatre people work to make what they do on stage appear simple, natural and easy. Perhaps some people get carried away with the booze and the atmosphere, and imagine themselves to be a part of the show – but they are not. It’s the reason some people are in the audience and highly-trained dedicated professionals are on stage.

We need to get a tighter grip on audience behaviour and ban offenders for life, as well as prosecute them.

If you have further ideas, then I’d love to hear them. Meanwhile, I hope that your next trip to the theatre allows you to focus entirely on the show, and not the antics in the stalls.


VIEWS: Two Years On: Covid’s unseen costs to theatre

March 16th 2020 was the fast-moving day that theatres closed their doors for the longest period in modern history. To mark two years since that event, I wanted to remind us all of what has changed – and to highlight an area that most theatregoers aren’t aware of.

Make no mistake, Covid has been a seismic event in the creative arts.

These last two years have seen theatre companies, buildings and related workers put through the wringer as they fought to survive this unprecedented crisis.

Two years later, most of our theatre buildings are still with us, but theatre’s infrastructure has suffered huge damage. Freelancers, already an undervalued and underrepresented group of creatives, found they had been forgotten in financial contingencies. It was the people within the industry itself that at least partially came to the rescue, raising millions of pounds from supporters both colleagues and grateful audiences. Two years later, how many of those valuable creatives have been lost to the industry?

Stuttering, inconsistent and inadequate financial support by the human blancmange that was Oliver Dowden (the ex-Culture Secretary) piled unnecessary pressure and pain on the whole sector, further compounded by the cowardly approach by incompetent central Government (not requiring but advising theatres to close, giving their insurance pals a get-out for not paying off on insurance claims). The less than £2 billion for the arts and culture was dwarfed by comparison with the £36 billion wasted on the failed test and trace scheme. And let us not forget that a large proportion of taxpayer’s money given to the arts were LOANS, not grants. theatres have to spend the next few years trying to pay it back. What a different approach to, say, easyJet, who came whining to government in April 2020 and found themselves with £600 million of taxpayers money in their back-pocket. Level playing field, my arse.

Actors took to social media to try to support others and boost morale, but the idea of artists who had worked hard for years being relegated to supermarket shelf fillers was a real gut punch.

Theatre companies did inspirational work with their local communities and deepened their relationships with their constituents as they filled the gaps in local authority services, handled donations and became whatever the community needed, food banks, vaccination centers, free entertainment providers. The scope and range of work has been truly breathtaking and moving. This is why creativity and the arts matter.

Creatives being creatives, many chose to dive online and produce work which was able to be broadcast to an external audience. Many started sidelines they had been toying with for years. Others later in their careers felt able to wait and ride it out.

Theatres themselves suffered their longest closure period ever. It is worth remembering that theatres do not stand still in time. You cant just lock the doors and expect to start up as if nothing had happened two years later. Theatres need just as much maintenance, repair and upkeep as our own homes do – much more, in fact. And with theatres these things don’t come cheap. Let us also not forget that the Restoration Levy paid on many tickets which helped contribute towards the upkeep of our most valued theatres has also been lost to theatre owners, digging another financial hole of tens of millions of pounds cumulatively over two years. Some of you may not have much sympathy for theatre owners, but our highest profile landlords like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh undoubtedly love their theatre buildings in similar ways that we love them.

Some took the opportunity (as Lloyd Webber did) to progress major renovation work while it was impossible to open to the public. From that, we have a restored and rejuvenated Her Majesty’s auditorium and a wonderfully-restored Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

And then of course once the film industry had started to get back up running (very quickly thanks to government insurance backed guarantees – which were denied to live theatre), creatives piled into filmmaking and television work. There has been much annoyance at the National’s Rufus Norris recent carping about Netflix taking talent away from the stage, which was a really dumb and insensitive thing to say. In an industry where over 75% are not in work, his kvetching may be seen as unhelpful and disrespectful of the wider talent pool that would love to be at the National, but will likely never get the chance. Perhaps Mr Norris might ponder the fact that if the government hadn’t handed over millions of taxpayers money to support the National (never forget where that cash came from!), he might be out looking for work too.

So now, as we reopen theatres and try to navigate a new normal, we can see that the whole landscape of theatre and theatregoing has changed. People are jumpier, audiences rowdier, the jangled nerves of separation will take time to settle.

There are many untold stories to be shared in coming months about this time, but for now I would like to focus on one particular aspect of theatre that audiences don’t see. Its about the damage to theatre financing.

It takes a considerable amount of money to put on a show, even a small-scale, fringe show. At a time when inflation is rising, the costs of putting on a show are rising too. Small shows with limited runs most often do not return their costs, let alone turn a profit. Larger shows which have the potential to run in London’s West End and/or tour the UK have much more potential, but also cost much more to stage and run.

Long-running shows, after recouping their production costs, can go on to produce a regular financial return to investors. Although many shows lose money, some break even and others go on to cumulatively make a lot of profit due to their low running costs or length of run – or other factors.

The money to put on shows is raised from investors -some still call them “angels”- who have a commitment to the project or those involved with it, or simply someone who wants to help a production get up on its feet. They can be industry insiders, other producers, wealthy folk with money to spare or small investors like the general public. Anyone can invest in a show- and usually you’ll be most welcome.

It is underestimated how many of those investing in shows are small to mid-scale investors. Some have a family history of investing, others had a particularly affinity with a particular production.

What is usually unseen and therefore not understood in the financial equation, is that many of these smaller/mid-scale investors, when they get a profit return, will very often use that money to put into another show, in this way keeping the money going round within the theatrical “body” as it were.

2020’s halting of all shows, big and small, hit or miss, West End or touring, means that not only have incomes been denied to theatres, producers, theatre-workers, show companies, ticket agents, marketing companies, agents, scene-builders, artists and so many more. What it has also meant is that the steady flow of returns in the shape of profit cheques were also halted in the first instance of this happening in theatre history.

What does this mean? Well, speaking as a smaller-scale investor, for me the abrupt halt of profit cheques meant that I could not help upcoming and emerging producers with the financial support for their shows to be presented, which support is most critical to allowing new and untried work to be seen and for all concerned to gain valuable experience.

We have to stop and think what these profit cheques have enabled. Not only the payment of salaries, office space rental, together with all the usual costs of running a business – accountancy, legal work, etc, but also of looking after those they may in some way be responsible for.

Once we get past this initial impact, there are still further and more ominous impacts to be considered.

As the large shows come back, they have to cope with not only the financial uncertainty of a depressed market for theatre, as well as a hesitant audience who may wait many more months before venturing back into a theatre, it also means that their restart costs have to be found from their own pockets. You don’t just go into a theatre and pick up where you left off 18 months ago.

Rehearsing, repairing and replacing sets, costumes, etc. Finding cast and company members who by now may have gone into other jobs, or even quit theatre altogether. This all takes money, and no-one except the producer knows where that will come from. What is certain is that it will affect their balance sheet enormously. Also, of course, it will further impede their ability to begin to pay profit cheques out once more, and how long that internal system will take to rebalance itself nobody knows, but it certain to be many years.

After World War Two, the Arts Council of Great Britain understood that for the regeneration of our cultural sector, many seeds needed to be planted, and often, in the hope that our creative industries could flourish again. Looking back on the support that was given then, it i almost unbelievable in the size and scale of its operation, creativity and joined-up thinking. Such an operation would be utterly impossible now. We have no visionaries left.

The fact remains that we need a similar approach now. Smaller scale seeding grants for upcoming companies to produce future healthy growth in our precious , unique theatre world., that is what will allow the creatives of the future to flourish.

And we might all consider offering up a word of thanks to all the thousands of investors who helped us to see the shows we loved in the past – and will continue to do so in the future.


Views: Tragedy follows Farce: driving the arts into a wall at speed

Tell your children. This is what Failure looks like.

So here we are, then. 2021.

As the UK takes the strain of a third lockdown, what news of our beleaguered arts and entertainment world?

Let’s start with the little good news we have. On January 15th, the UK’s Supreme Court adjudged on the side of businesses and against insurers who were trying to rat out of their obligations, refusing to pay out business interruption insurance. This was a heartening step, to know that many arts organisations and venues would get a measure of compensation for the losses they have had to endure.

However, for many it was no use, as organisations of smaller sizes never had that kind of insurance in the first place.

Then the next phase of the Cultural Recovery Fund was announced, though it was a mixture of grants and loans (let’s not overstate government largesse here, folks), and at only 20% the size of the original fund, hardly all-encompassing. There were ever fewer sightings of (apparently) Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, neatly described by The Guardian’s John Crace as”a man with the hunted look of Foxton’s worst-performing estate agent”.

Further, the insurance-backed programs so quickly provided to the film and TV world haven’t materialised for theatre. Not exactly a level playing field, then. The government balks at covering what its pals in the insurance industry don’t want to do because, rather like the UK’s trains being halted by the wrong kind of leaves on the railway tracks, this risk is the wrong kind of risk – so they aren’t playing ball. And the government have once again left the theatre and performance industries without the right support.

For many producers, the approaching Spring restart dates optimistically set up for some shows are feeling increasingly tight, and therefore likely to move back further. The key thing the industry needs is a measure of certainty, which we do not currently have – and will not have for many months yet. It’s all about what risk producers are prepared to shoulder.

And what else has happened this year? Oh, yes, a little thing called Brexit. You may not have come across it, but basically it’s a government plan to destroy most of the UK economy in exchange for some magic beans. No, sorry I am getting my panto wires crossed here. Or am I? In the weeks since the whole debacle kicked off, we have fishermen unable to sell fish to their biggest markets, lorries being turned back from EU borders due to incomplete or incorrect paperwork and small businesses being advised by the UK government to set up shop in the EU! Eh?

In news which underlined the government’s startling incompetence, the fisheries minister admit she didn’t even read the Brexit agreement because she was busy at her kid’s nativity (what’s the fate of a nation of 60 million people against a photo op for the family album, eh?). We later learned that UK negotiators (and I use that term so incredibly loosely) refused the idea of 90-day visa free EU travel for artists and performers to enable the continuation of touring of arts and entertainment reciprocally between the EU and the UK. Just to repeat- it was the EU which offered this, and the UK which turned it down flat. Why? because (according to reports) the UK didn’t want to offer the same courtesy to EU performers visiting the UK. Can you believe the arrogance and sheer stupidity?

UK negotiators make these guys look like Nobel Prize winners

So the vast numbers of people involved in touring shows, concerts and other events cannot now work outside the UK without endless documentation and reams of red tape which- do not forget – was brought upon us only by this government’s incompetence. The likelihood that this will make touring financially unviable is almost certain.

And still, almost one year later since the pandemic closed the arts, do we have any help for the 70% of the industry who are freelancers? Nothing. People are going without the basics of life and the government does nothing to help them. These talented people are retraining, leaving the industry they have spent years in because they are not being supported, whereas millions of others are helped left, right and centre. Don’t talk to them about a level playing field. Thinking ahead to when we have lost this wealth of talent, what point is there in saving venues if we have no-one to put shows into them?

Credit where its due, the Society Of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre have done a sterling job, like many organisations – practically reinventing themselves overnight, and they have distributed over £5million of donated money to those in the industry who are without work or support and in need.

Of course, behind this government’s arrogance, ignorance and incompetence I have a feeling that there is actually a plan, but it’s not one that any of us voted for. You can’t run from the sickening feeling that the government and their hedge fund cronies have been betting on the UK economy to tank, driving it into a wall so they can pick up the insurance money. No worries about a big payout for them. Little did those constantly lied-to Brexit voters realise when they voted that the “sunlit uplands” Boris talked about were reserved exclusively for the Upper Class.

With thanks to The Guardian for news links


Views: Theatres shut by Coronavirus: A time for positive thinking and community spirit

Gary Donaldson, Publisher of Unrestricted Theatre, writes:

If your email inbox, like mine, is overflowing with messages from UK theatres to advise us of their closure, perhaps like me you might be feeling pretty gutted right now. It feels like we’ve lost our dream.

UK audiences go to theatre and arts-related events in larger number than attend all sporting events combined. So there are more people missing theatre right now than any other form of leisure activity.

Not since the outbreak of World War Two have the UK’s theatres closed their doors en masse. Until this Monday.

In the fast-moving Coronavirus threat, several venues took the decision to cancel productions before the government’s briefing on Monday afternoon, after which the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre announced that all its member venues would close their doors “following official government advice, which stipulates that people should avoid public buildings including theatres”. Together, the two organisations represent about 50 London theatres and almost 250 others throughout the UK.

Whilst naturally a hugely distressing time for everyone involved in theatres, from the actors and musicians to electricians, stagehands and front of house teams, we should also remember the industries who rely on theatre for so much of their business – hotels, tourism, restaurants, bars, pubs – also have been hit in an unprecedented manner.

Financial measures are appearing on a daily basis so I shan’t attempt to cover what others have already done or are doing;  the announcement of the suspension of business rates for 12 months is something, but so much more will need to be put in place- and quickly- for all those whose employment is now in jeopardy. There has been widespread criticism about lightweight PM Johnson’s failure to order closure of venues, thereby denying them the ability to claim for business interruption on their insurance policies, which caused much unnecessary distress in itself on Monday. It emerges on Tuesday from various voices in the insurance sector that most businesses would not be covered, even if closure had been ordered. Yet on Wednesday new Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that the government’s advice would be enough to allow claims for those covered for pandemics. Confusion like this is not what we need from Government right now.

Further, let us not forget that fringe venues wouldn’t have even been able to afford insurance policies such as these in the first place, so all this does them no good whatsoever.

The creative industries are thronging with inspirational people who thankfully don’t just stop and down tools because a virus threatens. Although there will be much more which emerges in the next few days, what was heartening was that almost immediately creatives were searching for way to support others. Online appeals have sprung up to support artists struggling with cancellation of work and money worries flowing on from this. One early group set up by write Luke Barnes with an initial aim of creating ten £200 “grants” (which I was happy to contribute to on Sunday) has reached twice its target by Tuesday evening. Following Luke’s lead there are now similar schemes in operation for Hull, Newcastle, Manchester, Ireland, London, Wales and others springing up as we speak, such as Funds For Freelancers and One Month’s Rent. More power to all of them.

All across the web, people are reaching out and setting up groups to read scripts, offer advice, work on music, many offering their services to others for free in an outpouring of support for those who are feeling most vulnerable right now. So many people are taking their creativity to the web that we can see their inextinguishable need to create and express is one of the great drivers of this country. The UK creative industries employ over 2 million people, and are worth £110 billion. But their worth in terms of light, heat, heart and soul of the UK is priceless.

We can only hope that the government fulfils its responsibility to ensure the vast array of talent cut adrift by this crisis is given a substantial lifeline.

So what can you do to support our beloved theatres and creatives?

You can write to your MP to ensure the arts get a fair deal from the crisis financial offerings.

You can send the theatres themselves a note- an email, a phone call, any message of support via social media or otherwise is all hugely welcome I am certain.

To help the creatives involved, you can also donate to some of the Crowdfunding initiatives I mentioned earlier, usually through the sites Crowdfunder or GoFundMe

You can also donate to one of the charities supporting the entertainment industries.

If you have tickets already booked at a fringe venue, you will usually be offered a refund, but before you take it, remember you have alternatives. You can ask for a credit note, which keeps the money in the theatre but allows you to book for a later date. Or if you feel that can afford to, you can decide to turn that ticket cost into a donation to help the theatre survive.

You can also buy memberships to many venues, the money from which also helps them keep afloat and gives you a number of benefits. Memberships make great gifts for others too. And if you like reading, why not buy a few plays to keeps you going until the lights go on again? Maybe an old favourite and a couple of new ones to try- there’s a lot of great young writers out there!

The larger theatres have the financial stability to survive and carry on. The shows within them may struggle, but hopefully with the right help these will live out their expected stage life.

But for the fringe theatres, where there are no contingency funds to see them through a rough patch, this crisis may see many of them at risk of permanent closure or collapse. Please remember this- theatres need your help to get through this, just as we all need a bit of help sometimes.

If we all did something, Imagine the difference it would make to the UK’s creative future!

VIEWS: PRELUDES as seen by a Hypnotherapist

PRELUDES is a moving and intelligent musical about the power of therapy and music. The show features a hypnotherapist who helps the composer through his problems. I thought it would be interesting to get a practising hypnotherapist’s view of the show, and so I took along my friend Carlos Gouveia who is an RTT Hypnotherapist. I am sure that you will find his thoughts interesting in this, the next instalment of the VIEWS series.

PRELUDES is a fascinating musical journey through the mind of composer Sergei Rachmaninoff as he struggles with writers’ block at the end of the nineteenth century. The way that he chooses to face his fears is through hypnotherapy (the use of hypnotism for therapeutic purposes), a relatively new science at that time. Hypnotherapy in various forms had existed through many centuries, but when reintroduced by Franz Mesmer earlier in the late eighteenth century it began to be regarded with more respect as a scientific therapy.

During hypnosis, a person is said to have heightened focus and concentration, and a dramatically enhanced capacity to respond to suggestion. The application of hypnosis as a psychotherapy tool to deal with deep rooted issues in the subconscious mind can bring about enormously positive changes. What is surprising is that even today, certain misunderstandings and misconceptions about this therapy have lingered.

It is incredibly rare to see hypnotherapy given centre stage in a theatrical work of any kind, let alone a musical, and that is why I was prompted to write about it.

Writer/composer Dave Malloy has created a significant show which is not at all showy or blasé; no, this is a very thoughtful and almost meditative show. The audience I saw it with were as focussed as the clients in a therapy session, and their reactions quiet and thoughtful. The show gives no “built-in” pauses for applause except at the conclusion of each act, another highly unusual move which allows an acute maintenance of focus upon the subject throughout.

What is fascinating is that, although this is a show about a musical genius, it is principally about a human issue that we have all encountered: failure. This helps to make the show enormously relatable. We can identify elements of ourselves in Rachmnainoff’s struggle; the negativity, the doubt, the hopes, and loved ones rooting for us. Malloy has given us a very human Rachmaninoff, played expertly by Keith Ramsay.

It is dangerous when someone finds themselves dominated by a chain of thought that tells them that they are not good enough, that they don’t deserve much, and that other people look down on them or tolerate them out of politeness. When they find themselves snagging, hindering or impeding their wellbeing on memories of things they did wrong, or relationships that they didn’t get right, that is the time to seek help.

To ask you directly, reader; do you feel that you have to be a success in life just like you think someone else is -and are you consequently critical of yourself? This place in psychology is called ‘the inner Tyrant’. This was Rachmaninoff’s reality for a long period.

The show portrays the numbing state of depression and anxiety Rachmaninoff was experiencing very convincingly, climaxed at the start of the second act and skilfully performed by Norton James playing the demon in Rachmaninoff’s head. This feeling of being uncomfortable was palpable within the audience as I took time to observe my fellow theatregoers’ facial expressions of unease and discomfort. All of the actors gave highly-committed performances, with Rebecca Caine playing Dahl the hypnotist giving a solid and compassionate portrayal, conducting the sessions calmly whilst effectively supporting and reframing Rachmaninoff‘s state of mind and beliefs about the earlier traumatic event in his career.

Talking to several audience members after the show, as well as being delighted to have seen such a mould-breaking show, several said that they almost felt that they had undergone a sort of therapy too. And as mentioned before, the intriguing thing about the show is that it deals with failure- allowing the audience to share in some degree of their own catharsis as a valuable by-product of seeing the show.

PRELUDES is a brilliant piece of theatre which helps people understand the immense value of hypnotherapy – both historically, and today in helping millions of people live happier and more fulfilled lives, less burdened by the past and more energised by the future.

Of course, hypnotherapy – along with all types of therapy – has evolved dramatically over the last century. In my own branch of hypnotherapy, RTT (Rapid Transformational Therapy), I use a pioneering combination of four therapies – hypnosis, NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and psychotherapy – to deliver extraordinary, permanent change from physical, emotional and psychological pain by reframing my clients’ beliefs, habits and emotions that lie deep in their subconscious mind. This gives each client immense value – and it gives me enormous satisfaction to help them.

If this show has prompted you to think about the potential value of hypnotherapy in your own life, please feel free to drop me a line at hello@changeideserve.com or call 07870148504 for a free, initial chat.