Even if you are only an occasional theatregoer, one of the pleasures can be enjoyed on a night out is the opportunity to make a discovery.
People spending enormous amounts to see their favourite TV or film stars are rarely disappointed, since the emptying of a bank account has a psychological effect that practically guarantees satisfaction. There is a corollary, where, no matter how good the performance, some curmudgeons do not think it represents value for money.
Far more challenging is to spot the superstar in waiting. This might be a spear carrier in Shakespeare (almost all of the great names have done it), a minor character in a West End revival of Oscar Wilde or someone placed centre stage in the kind of fringe production that will only be seen by a few dozen people across the duration of its run.
This experience is not limited to the theatrical community. Following other forms of entertainment, you might be one of the few people to identify England’s next great centre forward (if they are still called that) or the LSO’s principal conductor in 20 years’ time.
In order to derive full satisfaction, you either need a very good memory or a system of note retention that may need to endure for a few years. First though, it is necessary to have a knack of identifying someone with extraordinary talent before almost anyone else chance their name from the rooftops.
This could be a writer, actor, director or even someone in a less visible role such as a lighting, video or sound designer. The fact they have made it into the ambit of public performance at all suggests that a director or producer has faith (though occasionally it might merely be that he or she knows their dad and owes them a favour).
As a critic of many years standing, this writer has seen literally thousands of performers on stage and witnessed the creative talents of many more budding stars. In doing so, one has the chance to see the early steps of stars who would eventually become globally famous but the question is whether you recognise the talent ahead of the pack.
Heading to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is often a rich source for this particular game. Without wishing to blow a personal trumpet too loudly, having already been wowed by performances in London, it was hardly a shock to discover that Phoebe Waller Bridge was also a supreme solo performer. The big surprise when seeing Fleabag was to learn that she could write as well as she could act.
The qualification for discovery might also be moot. If you find a wonderful, hitherto unknown playwright at one of London’s new writing theatres, someone has beaten you to it, but you can still claim to friends, family and even, dare one suggest it, friendly critics.
I may not have been the first but did notice both James Graham and Richard Bean in their early days, while the biggest scene stealer of the last decade or so, Erin Doherty, was always going to make it big, if not necessarily join the Royal Family.
Critics and theatregoers more widely are naturally a little more restrained when it comes to the ones that passed them by. Whether this is England’s fastest bowler of his generation, who at first sight seemed unable to direct a ball anywhere near the wicket, or a director whose work is so avant-garde that it literally seems senseless, we all miss out occasionally (well—regularly) but few have the courage to recognise their blind spots in public.
Since making discoveries is so exciting and fulfilling, the topic seems like a good starting point for an occasional series of articles in this column.
One hopes that these might enthuse readers to go out on star-spotting sorties by spending just a little less time concentrating on the glittery, expensive stars and also to share the rare pleasure that comes from knowing that you have struck gold and can still be posting about it a decade or two later.