We received in interesting offer in our inbox yesterday. The Ambassador Theatre Group sent us an email proclaiming that ‘As a valued theatregoer we would like to offer you a special reward’. And the reward is a free upgrade to see South Pacific at the Barbican.
Not that we have any intention of going to see this production, but we did have a look at what was on offer. And this is what we found.
Firstly, whilst it is true that premium seats are being offered at a mere £65 instead of £85, they are certainly not the ‘best available’. They might be the best in the Ambassadors ticket agency allocation, but a quick glance at the Barbican Theatre website shows that there are still plenty of much better premium seats going at full price.
Secondly, we believe the Barbican is breaking new ground in the long-running competition to push the definition of ‘premium’ to the limit. We can only make an estimate as the show is selling very well, but unless the seat price allocations are very eccentric indeed, we estimate that approximately 46% of the seats in the house are designated as ‘premium’. This goes way beyond even the worst examples that we have heard about, and certainly challenges some of the behaviour described by Mark Shenton in his recent post on the subject. Perhaps we have misunderstood. The dictionary definition of premium is ‘a commodity or product of superior quality and therefore a higher price’. Well, it would be fair to say that the term ‘premium’ has been devalued through overuse but could anyone really describe 46% of the seats in the Barbican as ‘superior’, warranting an extra premium on top of the top price? The ‘Theatremonkey’ seating plan would seem to suggest otherwise. Premium should be something extra special, not just a guarantee that you can see the whole stage face on. And while we’re at it, how can anyone justify selling top price tickets that have a restricted view? And this is not even in the commercial theatre – the Barbican is subsidised by the Corporation of London.
We do have another beef with the way this production of ‘South Pacific’ is being marketed. Naturally, references are going to be made to the original US production, and the information that it won seven Tony Awards. However, at least one cast member, Kelli O’Hara, has not transferred with the production. She was nominated for a Tony for the role of Nellie Forbush (her third time), losing out to Patti LuPone. Her website boasts a long list of credits and recordings. We are not sure if it is fair to describe Samantha Womack, her replacement, as a ‘British musical theatre star’. She may have been in a couple of musicals, but we would bet that her current fame has more to do with her starring role in EastEnders than time spent treading the boards. Of course there is no Matthew Morrison, the Glee actor who originally played Lieutenant Cable, and even Paulo Szot is alternating with another actor. And we’re pretty sure Alex Fearns is a new addition.
There is something of a Sorites paradox here – if you keep removing grains of sand until there is one grain left, is it still a heap, and if not, at what point did it stop being a heap? And at what point can we say that the reviews of the original production are actually valid here since essential elements that made it successful have been removed. We’ll be watching with interest – but not from the premium seats.