I’m not in the habit of writing to the Times but this soured my morning coffee this morning:
Now before all you Americans say, “I thought Miller was dead,” we’re talking Jonathan here, not Arthur. He’s a very, very famous and distinguished British theatre director and he’s annoyed that two of his recent productions in the British provinces – one of which was Hamlet, couldn’t get a London producer on board because they lacked big-name draws, even though the actors got great reviews. He goes on to complain about “that man from Doctor Who” just walking into a West End part as the moody Dane, and Jude Law gets an even rougher ride “I suspect he can’t act better than the young unknown who played him for me.”
Presumably, as a National Theatre director, Miller draws the line at stating publicly that David Tennant can’t act, but he makes up for it by forgetting his name, even though DT’s no stranger to the South Bank (Perhaps Miller’s still a bit peeved that he once turned down a big NT part to go off and do Dalek Empire for Big Finish).
It’s the second anti-Who swipe I’ve read in the Times recently – I think our friend Caitlin Moran’s overdone the fangirling and prompted a bit of a backlash. Miller has a point, in principle, but come on. He’s been on TV quite a bit himself – was he completely unknown when the BBC approached him? I doubt it somehow. And isn’t it a tad disingenuous to accuse the theatre, of all things, of obsession with the cult of celebrity. It’s not as if there was a golden age when people landed starring parts on ability alone. Larry Olivier, Alec Guinness, Sarah Bernhardt, Henry Irving…what were they, if not celebrities?
I’m sure it is tough to get a cast of unknowns a West End deal, but it’s not impossible. Bennett managed it with “The History Boys”; indeed, he took the show to Broadway. And it was a great pleasure, just over a year ago, for me to attend the movie premiere of THB, and see director Nick Hyntner passionately champion the cause of the proposed drama centre at Manchester Grammar School. But it does help to think creatively instead of whinging.
Anyway, I sent the following e-mail to The Times in David Tennant’s defence, if only to show that some of us don’t think that the only interesting thing the papers ever say about him is where he allegedly spent last Saturday night:
Jonathan Miller has a valid point, but his attack on David Tennant’s forthcoming appearance as “Hamlet” is misplaced for several reasons.
Firstly, it’s inaccurate to describe Tennant as a “West End celebrity Hamlet”. The production will only transfer to the West End after a lengthy run in Stratford. Nor is this an example of celebrity casting for the sake of it: David Tennant was acclaimed for his work with the RSC and the National Theatre long before “Doctor Who” made him famous.
You don’t just walk into a part like The Doctor. Both Tennant and Christopher Eccleston, his predecessor on the show, were distinguished actors with wide-ranging theatrical experience before being offered the role. The sniping at Tennant seems particularly unfair in view of his recent campaigning efforts on behalf of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, not to mention the beneficial effects of his delightful portrayal of the Doctor meeting Shakespeare last year!
As a librarian in a primary school, I know at first-hand that many young children had their interest in live theatre awakened by that performance. I am also proud to be playing host to no less than four American friends who will be visiting the UK to see “Hamlet” this summer; their determination to experience David Tennant’s performance live at a time when the dollar is so weak is testament to his pulling power and its beneficial effect on the national economy.
There is something very British – and not in a good way – about this bad-tempered sniping at a famous person, and the implication that fame is arbitrary rather than the result of many years of hard work. Indeed there are celebrities devoid of talent, but David Tennant has it in abundance, refined by a lifelong dedication to his craft. Can’t we just rejoice that he’s chosen to stay here and return to live theatre when he must have had no shortage of offers from Hollywood? If he was really interested in playing the fame game, that’s where he’d be.
And now I’m waiting for the inevitable cartoon: “All I have to do is snap my fingers and – whee – there I am playing Hamlet in the West End…”