TV star casting in the West End: good or bad?

Today’s biggish news is that famed director and writer Jonathan Miller has decided to have a go at West End casting practices – and in particular the casting of David Tennant (and Jude Law) in Hamlet.

Apparently, he’s been trying to get his no-star version of Hamlet into the West End but can’t, even though he reckons the performances are bound to be better than either Tennant’s or Law’s.

So the question for you, my friends, is does he have a point? Or do West End producers have a point?

For my own part, I’m very easily swayed by some big film or TV names into turning up at a theatre when I otherwise wouldn’t: my most recent theatre attendances (off the top of my head) have included Fat Pig (Joanna Page, Robert Webb, Kris Marshall, Ella Smith), Art (bloke off Dalziel and Pascoe, Sean Hughes and Alistair McGowen if I recall correctly), A Few Good Men (with Rob Lowe and John Barrowman), The Master Builder (Patrick Stewart and Kelly Reilly), Patrick Stewart’s one-man version of A Christmas Carol, and Sexual Perversity in Chicago (Matthew Perry, Minnie Driver, Hank Azaria, Kelly Reilly).

That’s money in the pockets of theatres that they otherwise wouldn’t have had with less well-known casts. And the West End isn’t exactly cheap.

More to the point, are celebs possibly the best choices? Maybe they’re famous because they have talent. David Tennant isn’t exactly unknown in theatre.

In fact, is Miller just grumpy because he couldn’t get his own production off the ground? Why have a go at a version of Hamlet that hasn’t even started performing? 

Fat Pig is the most obvious piece of TV celeb casting at the moment, so why not pick on it? Is it because, way back in 2002, he cast the RADA-trained Joanna Page in his production of Camera Obscura at the Almeida (to generally excellent reviews), and so wouldn’t have had much of a leg to stand on?

What do you think? Are good actors being overlooked? Are they being overlooked in favour of better, more famous actors? Or is celeb casting a necessary evil in a competitive market?

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