Could theatre production previews become like the bones of a prehistoric dinosaur, a reminder of a long lost time, to be on display in theatrical museums or forgottern all together? There is a real danger of this happening judging by the recent behaviour of certain tabloids reviewing a production of Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, at the Barbican while it is still in the preview period. I’m sure you have heard about this and it’s fairly certain The Clangers on their planet have too, but this scolding of the press in question, followed by behaviour and etiquette debates has perhaps detracted from an eventuality, that has risen it’s ugly head. One that happens to be that previews could be phased out and reviews aren’t embargoed until press night, meaning for example that a three month run of a production will be reviewed from open night onwards..
You might be wondering why preview peformances are important for a show. Well it’s a trial run, effectively a way of seeing what works and what doesn’t. It is a way of smoothing out the kinks before the critics are let in to see the production. So a lot can be changed (or not), depending on the show and it’s cast and creative team. It could be argued that this is a safety net and having previews just encourages a production to perhaps be unimaginative and unprepared until press night. A live world tour of a band has to be prepared so that opening night they are on the ball, no second chances, so why does theatre have to be any different?
This might be off the mark, but in sixteenth century England when Shakespeare’s works were gaining momentum, there were no previews just performances, pure and unadulterated. But this doesn’t actually make previews something that are an example of pretentious modern construction or pointless, of course not in fact to the contrary. They are VITAL. If you have the opportunity to improve something whether it’s theatre, a cake or an attitude you grab that bull by the horns.
Previews are a creative process that need to be cherished, a small minority who have taken it upon themselves to ignore embargoes, and review a production, should not be given an overall power to destroy the etiquette that benefits creative team and audiences alike. Preservation is the only way to describe what needs to be done to ensure that in ten or perhaps twenty years ( yes that near!) the traditional preview hasn’t been thrown on the scrap heap. By looking at how previews can be misconstrude, or seen as irrelevant, is actually the way to save them, as it then highlights the ways to change these views that may have built momentum by those ignoring preview codes of conduct ( by reviewing or commenting before press night).
The future is never certain especially in the industry we know and love- the arts. With some disecting and rebuilding, the institution of the preview, should flourish, as it’s invaluable influence on theatre and creativity as a whole needs to be realised and not forgottern.