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Easy to take theatre for granted

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Will Gompertz | 08:22 UK time, Friday, 17 December 2010

What would you pay to be one of only 300 or so people at a gig of your favourite musical superstar? Something like Prince performing at a ticket-only function in your local or Beyonce knocking out a live set for a select few? Millionaires pay millions for this level of intimacy with a rock-god; most, if they liked the act, would pay more than £29.

Yet that's all it costs to see Derek Jacobi - one of the greatest stage actors of this or any other generation - perform the role of King Lear at the Donmar Warehouse. And that's the most you can pay; if you don't mind standing, the price is £7. This is a production that the Telegraph's Charles Spencer described as the greatest Lear he has seen. No wonder it has sold out.

And in small subsidised theatres, such prices are the norm, not the exception. For example, and staying with London, tickets from £8 to £32 are still available to see the very talented Gemma Arterton in Ibsen's Master Builder at the Almeida.

The Donmar and the Almeida are just two of several small theatres around the country that are putting on plays featuring the very best talent the acting profession has to offer at relatively modest prices. Frankly, it's easy to take it for granted.

I did, until I sat transfixed by the Donmar's King Lear production, my feet resting on the stage, listening to the tormented old man on his descent into madness, battered by a storm and ungrateful daughters shouting in exasperation, "I am a man more sinn'd against than sinning".

At that moment it struck me like a stray bolt of lightening from the onstage storm: I was watching the very best the performing arts has to offer in any genre at the sort of proximity that was once reserved for royalty and oligarchs. Yet the tickets were affordable to the average punter.

Mind you, not everyone was quite so wrapped up in the moment. A couple of Americans were sitting next to me having managed to get hold of tickets at the last moment (I don't know). As they drank their red wine out of plastic beakers waiting for the show to begin, I watched as they hugged themselves with excitement at their good fortune.

Ten minutes later they were fast asleep. I bet they wouldn't have done that if they'd paid to see Van Halen in a similarly bijou venue.


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