/ Review / Writing: Journalism

@westendproducer’s #searchforatwitterstar live! (***)

#searchforatwitterstar (or, to give it its full title,@westendproducer’s #searchforatwitterstar Live!) is a new talent competition, organised through Twitter by the elusive @westendproducer, looking to find the next West End leading man and lady – but how successful is it in its first year? At the Lyric Theatre.

The simple answer: teething. Not that the resulting evening isn’t an enjoyable experiment that may well lead in an exciting direction for up and coming West End stars, but there’s plenty a gripe to be had here. But I imagine there are enough of you not au fait with social media websites enough that this may take a little explaining first…

@westendproducer is a Twitter account run by someone in the theatre business, and has been used as a sounding board for any amount of commenting on how the industry is running. It has managed to stay, broadly speaking, anonymous. However, what started as a quirky little idea has grown into a popular phenomenon. For those of you not in the Twittersphere, Twitter is a website where you can say whatever you like (as long as it doesn’t exceed 140 characters) to people who ‘follow’ your account, and over 15,000 people now ‘follow’ @westendproducer. And if it’s an account, you normally prefix it with an ‘@’ – in case that was flummoxing you.

Now, @westendproducer had the idea of running a West End talent show, and decided to run it over Twitter – using the ‘hashtag’ #searchforatwitterstar (which means putting a hash-mark ‘#’ in front of a word to make it something you can search for and, for want of a better explanation, join into a conversation happening between Twitter accounts). People were encouraged to upload videos of themselves with said ‘hashtag’, and thus the entries were judged, short-lists were drawn up, and the resulting finalists were invited, along with audience members, to take part in the live final performance. Confused? Don’t worry, if you’re not a Twitter user; I imagine this whole process seems about as arcane and unbelievable as the magic in Harry Potter.

However, what does this all boil down to in practical terms? Well, very simply, yet another talent show, although this one’s on in the West End instead of flickering across the television screen. In many ways, it couldn’t be more similar – a panel of judges, ranging loosely from the cruel to the kind, deliver their verdicts (here quite literally from on high… well, the dress circle) on any number of young hopefuls, who leap on stage to try and wow an audience of voters – but then again, this is a format that has worked on television for years and needs little tweaking. And it’s all pretty formulaic here: ten contestants sing their heart out and are judged, at which point the audience are encouraged to tweet their favourite, then some are knocked out, more tweeting, then the final winners are revealed – bish, bash, bosh, what could be easier?

Well, that’s just the problem really – this format has been redone and rehashed ad infinitum it seems, so seeing it live on the West End quickly loses its charm – especially when the little wrinkles still haven’t been ironed out. The biggest issue here is the judges: it’s embarassing when they spend most of the show deriding the show’s director and musical director for the acts’ song choices, and even more so that they weren’t particularly positive about any of the acts – maybe some less draconian choices next time #dear? (Before you ask, that’s a reference to @westendproducer’s habit of ending his text with a ‘hashtag’ marked #dear – no, I don’t understand why either.) That soured the tone of the night – plus, duff prizes (a year’s membership to Spotlight? Gee thanks), acts in between the contestants completely blowing them out of the water, and various sound issues meant that the whole thing felt distinctly amateurish. And there were far too many empty seats for this to have been counted a ‘success’.

But it is in its first year – and very few things work perfectly from day one. Another talent show focusing on the West End may seem superfluous, but something quite so open to everyone and run through something as equalising as social media is quite an exciting social experiment and a brilliant opportunity for young performers. I’m also very excited about the social media possibilities being taken on board by the big commercial West End machine – smaller companies have started using Twitter and Facebook in inventive and exciting ways to inform their art, and it’s nice to see that spreading. The next step is to make it accessible to those who, having read this review, still have NO idea what Twitter is…


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