Underselling the understudy? I don’t think so….
There has been a lot of talk of understudies of late. With the sad news that Sheridan Smith’s Father has been diagnosed with Cancer she missed the last week of performances of Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory. As is the want in this day and age of social media there has ensued a Twitter storm that appears to have divided not just audiences but also Star and Producer it would seem.
When Ms Smith missed her shows she was quick to jump onto social media to firstly apologise and to secondly offer to pay for those that would miss her performance to see her when the show transfers to the Savoy. Remarkably grounded and generous of her considering this should have been the job of the Producer, which it later became albeit seemingly a little slow off the mark.
Whilst the Smith fans screamed that it was right that she should be off, there were some that said a professional should have no reason to miss a show. Whilst I believe it should be a last resort to miss a show you have to believe that Smith took this decision incredibly seriously and with a heavy heart. Could she after all be expected to give a ‘funny’ Funny Girl having just had this news? Of course not. Stars are only human and need time off too you know. Eventually the Producers stepped up and offered to reseat audiences to the Savoy for later in the run once the show has transferred.
Which leaves the issue of refunds. The prevailing cry is that audiences are there to see Funny Girl and not the Sheridan Smith show. They also quite rightly state that in most terms and conditions it states that the cast can be changed at any time. I would firmly agree if the show were just being sold as Funny Girl. But it is not. It is being sold as Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl. Smith’s name appears above the title of the show with artwork that features nothing but an image of her and her alone. If a Producer is selling a show based on its star and not a lot else then they must take responsibility when that star is absent. They are no longer offering what they are marketing to us. Harsh perhaps as it is no less their fault than it is the star’s of course, however all the while that star is performing and we are all buying tickets the producer is happy to take our money based on them appearing, they cannot therefore continue to do so when they are not appearing.
Next up are the accusations that by offering refunds or exchanges due to Ms Smith being absent the Producers are undervaluing the understudy that is then performing in her place. Some have said that the message seems to be that she clearly can’t be as good therefore please come back another day. That is of course rubbish. Understudies are drilled and rehearsed and are often just as qualified to play the role as the billed star is. I have seen understudies on numerous occasions and they are nearly always brilliant. The suggested message that it is only Smith that is worth seeing is no different to the initial marketing that is selling the show on the back of her being in it. Does this also undervalue the entire company that they are not worth a mention on the marketing? Once again if the show is being sold on one name, then they must take responsibility for that name not appearing. This is the case with the rest of the acting company as well.
I understand the disappointment for those that have missed Ms Smith’s performance. Many people will have booked just to see her and would not have dreamt of seeing Funny Girl had she not been in it. That is why a Producer must refund or exchange if their star is off. They cannot have their cake and eat it!