I always get a programme when I go to a show. Out of general interest, I would get a programme anyway, but I admit that in part this is a defence mechanism; I’m frequently there to review the show, so I need to know who played whom.
So what should go into a programme? Well, as I say, I need to know who did what. I’m quite partial to actors’ biographies because it reminds me where I’ve seen them before. (Oh yes, when I last saw Julie she was being rogered over a table in Kiss Me Kate. That’s Lucy? She looks completely different. She put in a great performance as Andy. I remember Brian from Titanic; went down really well…) A list of scenes and songs may be welcome. Something about the writer? Something about the history of the show? Something about the company in general?
What I don’t want to read in a programme is the plot. There may be a place for that in a programme for an opera sung in a foreign language, but otherwise, giving me the plot is the job of the show, not the programme. After all, not everyone has a programme, and not everyone who has one has time to read it beforehand. But what happens when the vocal lines are so complex that the audience can’t hear individual words to a song? In that case the production has to find another way to convey the plot; from the stage, that is, not from the written word. Usually this is called acting.
This is, of course, an opinion. Some people want the comfort of knowing what they’re going to see before they see it. I’m happier with theatre as a voyage of discovery, so when I got to my seat last night, I deliberately avoided the plot page of the programme, and I didn’t know about the Get Out Of Jail Free card that allowed a neat resolution to the dilemmas of the characters. Thus I owe a debt of gratitude to the lady in the row behind me who, before curtain up, for the benefit of those around her, read the whole thing aloud.