Two stories this week highlight the wisdom or otherwise that comes with age.

Age-Blind As You Like It

In As You Like It, William Shakespeare delineates the seven ages of man. With current life expectancy stalled somewhere in the 80s, it is reasonable to assume that the following extract would be appropriate to portray the recently announced, 70-something cast of Omar Elerian’s new RSC production of the comedy.

The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.

In recent years, the RSC has commendably gone to considerable trouble to establish its credentials in the fields of equality and diversity.

Having taken on bias against women and those from minority races or with physical limitations, perhaps it was only a matter of time before a Stratford production was cast with actors well beyond the age that used to be regarded as standard for retirement.

The director sets out his stall by suggesting, “much as the play is traditionally associated with young love, I feel there’s something really powerful in rediscovering the themes of freedom and love from the perspective of older age. I’ve therefore cast the play almost exclusively with performers who are past the age of 70.”

We shall have to see whether Elerian’s optimism about the audience’s ability to suspend disbelief results in confusion or celebration.

At the very least, he has a fantastic cast that includes Maureen Beattie, Geraldine James, James Hayes, Malcolm Sinclair and Robin Soans, all of whom have what it takes to make the venture a delight.

Who knows, this could be the start of a trend, although given that so many young actors struggle to find casting opportunities, the idea of being blocked out from perfect roles by those with shrunk shanks may prove unpopular in some acting circles.

Bad Cinderella Lives Down to Its Name

Regular readers of this column with long memories will recall that the London production of another septuagenarian, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella, proved to be such a commercial disaster that his Lordship was obliged to mortgage his home.

You can take your pick from generally accepted tropes either believing that age brings wisdom or, alternatively to repeat a long-established saw, there is no fool like an old fool.

While opening a major West End production in the middle of the pandemic appeared foolhardy and might have been the reason why the show crashed and burned in London, the muted enthusiasm from critics and prospective punters might have indicated deeper seated problems.

The canny producers on the far side of the Atlantic attempted to distance themselves from this disaster by renaming the musical Bad Cinderella. That really did seem to be tempting fate and sadly their evaluation has proved prophetic.

Despite an almost unprecedented run of successes for numerous Lloyd Webber shows on Broadway, exemplified by the Phantom of the Opera, which has just closed after 35 years on the Great White Way following its 13,981st performance, this new take on a fairy story has turned into a pumpkin and will be closing on the first Sunday in June after 33 previews and a mere 85 regular performances.

Having already remortgaged his house, one fears that Lord Lloyd Webber might now be reduced to panhandling, in order to save his shirt.

More realistically, since Phantom grossed $1.3 billion and many of his other shows have run for decades around the world and / or been turned into profitable movies, perhaps the poverty story has been overstated. At the very least, it could provide fantastic material for his next long-running blockbuster musical.