In response to Jonathan Miller…

He’s not the first person to say it, but in an interview with The Times this week, Jonathan Miller has lashed out at the “obsession with celebrity” that has become part and parcel of the London theatre scene.

Unsurprisingly, his views have garnered a fair amount of coverage, just as Kevin Spacey’s criticisms of the BBC did earlier this year. The press can’t help getting excited about big names in the theatre getting angry – just look at some of the headlines this week – “West End is ‘celebrity obsessed'” and “Director slams West End ‘obsession'” to pick two.

Now I can understand his criticism, as it does feel like the number of shows without an established star in them is ever-diminishing. As ever through, the answer is somewhat more nuanced than Miller’s response implies – celebrity casting is not always bad, and many of the ‘big names’ he worries about are fantastic actors that can attract large audiences to plays that might otherwise be considered somewhat inaccessible.

For me, Michael Billington’s response in the Guardian shows up the problems with Miller’s argument, so I’d encourage anyone who has read the original comments to read Billington’s response for a little more balance.

Personally, I think the biggest problem can be detected from headlines like “Sir Jonathan Miller takes on Doctor Who” . I’m sure there are plenty of examples of actors in the West End who are only there due to their celebrity status (perhaps some of the big-name American actors – Matthew Perry?), but Miller shoots himself in the foot by picking out 2 actors who have real theatrical training in Jude Law and David Tennant.

Surely Miller knows that David Tennant, the current Doctor Who, trained at the RSC before turning his hand to television? Surely the theatre world should be excited about the thought of welcoming Tennant back to the stage! And if gets a new, younger audience to the RSC, I doubt it will be complaining.

The views of a great theatre director on the state of West End theatre are rightly considered of interest to the press, but I can’t help wishing that he had picked his targets slightly better. As it is, he risks coming across as slightly bitter about the failure of his own recent shows to make it to the West End.



For Michael Billington’s response, click here
For another interesting blog response, click here


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