Mr Swallow in Houdini

Mr Swallow in Houdini

Should you tell them the length or let them find out? The theory of not saying anything is that by the time they find out how short it is, they’re committed and they’re going to enjoy the experience so much, they won’t mind.

I would like to think that all that matters is the quality but I can’t deny that, when we’re talking about theatre, the actual performance is only part of an evening out. There’s also the travel, the drinks, maybe a meal before or after. An hour long show isn’t exactly a full evening out. Does that matter if it’s good or are you left you feeling shortchanged?

I went to see Mr Swallow in Houdini at Soho Theatre a couple of weeks ago. I loved it and laughed more than I have in a long time, so I certainly didn’t mind that it was only an hour long. Even so, it started at 7 o’clock so my wife and I were back on the street just after 8.

We could have been wondering what to do next but fortunately we’d been forewarned that it was an hour long so we were prepared to go on to a restaurant afterwards. Otherwise we might have found ourselves a few hours short of an evening out.

As someone who markets Theatre Royal Winchester, I always try to let people know if the performance is short but this raises a number of questions.

Does taking the trouble to point out that a performance is only a hour long suggest that I think you may think it’s not good value? At what point does a performance become standard length- 90 minutes, two hours?

There are other questions when it comes to describing the mechanics of a performance. Should I say if there’s no interval? Should I tell people if it’s extra long?- Hamlet usually runs to three and a half hours.

On the website, we do give the running time of every show, when we know it. But, to me, these are the kind of details that take up valuable space in a season brochure that I would like to use to tell people about the content of the show.

A brilliant play called Heaven Eyes, full of suspense, mystery and magical realism, is coming to Theatre Royal Winchester on 6 March. It’s about an hour and a half long and there’s no interval, so as not to break the spell. I think people will be so gripped that they won’t notice the length. However, their bladders might tell them it’s time for a break unless we forewarn them.

I’m happiest when I can use a quote like ‘a fun-packed hour’ or ‘the four hours go by at the speed of a train’.

It also depends on the genre. People expect a show for young children to be no more than an hour so I would advise if one was longer. Anyone who goes to a contemporary dance show would be surprised if it went on for more than an hour and a half, not because you can only take so much of people leaping around and catching each other in the air but because it’s so intense.

It’s quite natural to want a full evening’s entertainment but, when you think about it, it’s ridiculous to judge a performance by its length. One of the best shows I saw last year was Wot? No Fish! at Theatre Royal Winchester which was barely an hour long. I’m sure we’ve all seen shows (at other venues, of course) which we’d wished were only an hour in length.

Paul Lewis markets Theatre Royal Winchester and Hampshire Workspace and is the owner of the marketing consultancy Seven Experience. A version of this article has appeared on the Daily Echo website.

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