To Muck Up or Not to Muck Up?
- OnStage United Kingdom Columnist
On June 11th I went to see Les Miserables in London’s West End. I usually try to visit once a year as it is my favourite musical, but this was my third visit already this year. We decided to go as it was current cast change day and it’s always nice to see your favourites one last time before they move on to pastures new.
There is a theatre tradition called ‘muck up matinee’ whereby the cast that are leaving play a few jokes and make some deliberate mistakes on their last matinee as a sort of rite of passage for leaving. During the performance I saw there were many of these so called ‘muck-ups’ happening, and I have to say I know it is a tradition, but it made me wholly underwhelmed by what is usually an amazing show- it is the longest running musical in the West End after all!
The cast of the London musical at the moment is one of the best I’ve ever seen in the West End, and that day a lot of the high talent left but I do feel it was tainted by some of the pranks being played. Peter Lockyer, the current Valjean is in a word- sublime. He oozes torment from the first moment you see him, and really makes the role his own, watching him develop the character from beaten convict, to determined mayor, and finally an old man at peace, he really gets the right balance between aggression and sensitivity. He gives an intense and passionate performance, and his rendition of ‘Bring Him Home’ is one not to be missed. If you’d like to see some of the current cast- most of the key players have remained the same then watch this link from West End Live 2016. West End Live is a wonderful experience, Trafalgar Square, two days of all your favourite musicals, for free! Highly recommend this yearly event! This video also shows two of Les Mis’s main stars, the Miss Saigon girls Eva Noblezada and Rachelle Ann Go, who have both transitioned wonderfully from Miss Saigon in the West End to take their roles as Eponine and Fantine in Les Miss. Eva will of course be across the pond in Broadway next year to open in Saigon there, something which will be truly special I’m sure! My favourite character has always been the ever determined Javert though. I always like a misunderstood passionate ‘villain’ as it were, and the current Javert, Jeremy Secomb has to be in the top three that I’ve ever seen. On that particular day he was absolutely stunning, despite a small smile due to another cast member’s jokes. He plays Javert very aggressively and with such motivation and relentless determination right up until his end.
Anyway, back to the question in hand. I first noticed that some of the cast had subtly changed their costumes, which wasn’t too odd, until of course we were greeted by two Bujon’s in the street scene, which began the first of many moments of corpsing for a lot of the actors. There were many other changes that weren’t so subtle, such as a barricade boy singing ‘They’re retweeting’ instead of ‘They’re retreating’ after the first barricade battle in Act 2, and wearing some odd Harry Potter style glasses, whilst singing ‘There’s a wizard on the run’ in place of ‘river on the run’. For my it bottles down to the difference between a change so subtle, that unless you are a super fan like myself that has seen it enough times to be able to scrutinise every part and huge changes that disrupt enjoyment for the audience. I was sat in Row D of the stalls which made it easier for me to notice things being so close, but I think even somebody who was seeing it for the first time would not have missed the obvious smiles and laughter when it wasn’t appropriate. This could have put first time audience members off going again as it was not up to the usual professional standard that afternoon.
I later saw a social media poll discussing the idea of ‘muck-up matinees’ in which many people thought it was an acceptable tradition and the cast should be allowed to do what they like on the last matinee. I really strongly believe that small changes which distract nothing from the emotion or plot line can be acceptable, but anything which starts to distract so much that audience members leave feeling they haven’t got their money’s worth is not, in my eyes how professional actors should conduct themselves, despite what day it is. The icing on the cake for me was one of the female cast members wearing what can only be described as a ‘non-traditional wig’ and making another cast member laugh during her solo in ‘Turning’ which for me is such a tender and emotional song that when someone laughs is completely ruined and the magic of the show is broke.
Now please don’t let this put you off of what is a truly great and outstanding piece in the musical theatre world, in all my years of seeing it, this is the first and only time that I have left feeling disappointed but this will not deter me from seeing it again in the future. I just want pose the question; How do you feel about ‘muck-up matinees’? Would you enjoy the casts frivolity or not as a theatre goer?