please empty your brain below

In my case it does not matter who is performing in a film, or opera/ play/ musical etc. as long as they look the part and do a competent job.
In fact I do not know most "stars" names and always go by the story and content if choosing a theatre or cinema event.
So you saw the Pinter did you?
Lucky to get tickets at all, you git.
I had the misfortune to watch Strictly Come Dancing last night. Whilst overwhelmingly relieved that former-tv-announcer-who-should-remember-she-is-no-better-than-she-ought-to-be was no longer a presenter I was baffled by the stars being total nonentities. So given that most watch to see these 'stars' I was deeply troubled for the future of mankind.
Because TV is now widespread and fragmented, 'stardom' is too.

On the 'celebrity' specials I have no idea who they are, it is physically impossible to keep up with it all anyway, then you add literature/art/sport/music on top, you can now have 'alternative' fame (and potentially pay your bills) on YouTube.

Not only that but you have all the stuff that has already been created, and is now freely available, I'm unsure if you could get the widespread recognition that existing stars have now.

There was an episode of pointless that included a photo of Mo Farah doing the Mobot thing after 2012, less that half the respondents recognised him - how many of the gold medalists from Rio can you name now without looking it up?
On one hand a disappointment, on the other the gift of a subject for a good blog and I suspect, just as memorable as if you had had the 'real thing'.
You all know it's on at the cinema on the 15th December, right? I expect both Sirs will be present and correct. Not quite the same thing, atmosphere wise, but in some ways better - much better view than being back in the affordable theatre seats, for one thing. And WAY cheaper.
It shows my age, but I remember seeing the original production of this with Gielgud and Richardson in the 1970s. There was the same sense of anticipation of seeing two such well-known actors on the same stage
I don't go to the theatre, I always fall asleep
'Caz' said "falls asleep" at theatre. I always envy people who can fall asleep in public places.
'Still anon' mentions people not recognizing Mo Farrow. I think there is a difference between sports "stars" and actors on stage and film.
A sports "star" or an individual act like Jack Benny or Tommy Cooper is a unique quality that that individual has and presents as themselfs.
Actors in a film or play are doing what they have been trained for and playing a character role. Any suitably trained person passing from a good drama school can do this.
So I may know the name of a character in a play, but not know the name of the "star" playing that part.
Now I'm retired I prefer to go to weekday matinees at the theatre, and often one of the leading actors will be replaced by an understudy. This seems to be a feature of afternoon performances, perhaps so that the 'star' will be at their best for the evening show.
Like several commenters above, I'm not really bothered about seeing celebrities, and often I leave the theatre thinking that it couldn't possibly have been any better with the usual lead actor.
I'm currently involved with the lives of various late Victorian stage stars for work, and it's become clear to me that they were held in as much reverence as today's celebrities. So I don't think what you describe is a new phenomenon - you could have written this piece at any time over the past 130 years or so.
Some comments from elsewhere...

Mark: A fantastic blog post and very true. I remember that same feeling when I saw Speed the Plow and both Lohan and Schiff were absent, and that is no disrespect to the understudies who did a fantastic job, but it pretty much sums up the mood of the audience.

Jan: Thought that blog was arrogant and total rubbish in the "everyone is an idiot except me" mode, just projecting his own prejudices onto a group of total strangers he knows nothing at all about.

Martin: Just read the blog, sounds like a mentalist!

Jan: It is quite badly written in an adolescent kind of way. Many points are laughably wrong-headed - he thought the audience was likely to be full of young fantasy fans, at £150 a go. Actually all he has done is project his own opinions on to an audience he knows nothing about.

Kevin: I don't think it's unfair to say they've sold a lot of tickets to people who aren't interested in theatre, but would like to see the Wizard and the Professor working together in person. The percentage of people who bought tickets purely to see the play - and remain indifferent to the casting - I assume is marginal at best. The actors are the draw, not the play.
Perhaps in twenty or thirty years those currently-disgruntled members of the audience will be boasting that back in 2016 they saw "much loved knight of the realm, character in that series of 3D holoshows everyone likes, etc, etc" when, as "understudy no-one had heard of", he got his first big break.
And of course they will say that they immediately recognised a future star, commenting on his new interpretation and fresh insights, much more exciting than when the play was performed by that "much loved knight of the realm, etc, etc".
Re the comments on the other board: crumbs, and you thought The Understudy was facing a tough crowd! ;-)

I go to the theatre quite often, and I'm not ashamed to admit that often I'm drawn to a production because of the casting. Not always, but often. There's so much on in London that it seems a reasonable way to make a choice of what to see - one way amongst many, of course.

There is a little niggle in my head telling me that I've seen an understudy for a major role once - but I cannot recall what it was for the life of me, which probably goes to show I had a fine time nevertheless. I would definitely have been disappointed to go to see the play you're talking about though and have one of the two major actors missing (and indeed, one of the supporting guys is someone I'm interested to see too).

As someone with an alarming tendency to book for things with minimal idea of what to expect, though, my more pressing worry tends to be about whether I'll enjoy it or not - but apparently I'm really easily pleased, as I've only not returned post-interval a couple of times. At last night's show people were leaving mid-act, which I always think is a bit over the top - wait till the break, surely? - unless your babysitter's just texted to say the kids are dead. Though given the average age at the National on a Saturday night, I doubt that was the reason. I imagine they were annoyed by Mozart. He's meant to be annoying...
It's interesting that someone said you projected an "everyone is an idiot except me" attitude here.

Because if there's one thing I know about you, it's that you'll have written it almost as a "why do we (humans) feel this way, aren't we stupid" more than a "I'm so clever" piece.
Really, it depends on the production. Went to see Spamalot after Tim Curry had moved on, because it didn't matter. I wanted to see the musical, and the star didn't matter. In many, or even most cases, that's pretty much it.

This, on the other hand... It's not Pinter's best. It probably wouldn't make the West End without at least one star name to it. And it's not two random stars - they're good friends and everyone knows it. They want to watch the two off them riff off of each other, and the content of the play be damned.
To see two great actors knock spots off each other, stay at home and watch Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg in The Avengers.
...oh well
The famous writer who is also famous for her late husband having been a famous playwright will be very annoyed with you for dissing the sacred text...
The astonishing thing for this production (at least I think it is) is that the understudy is actually ready to step in for both Ian McKellen AND Patrick Stewart, and hence has to not only know both parts, but know them well enough not to get confused as to which part he is playing should he suddenly get drafted in to perform, and start saying the wrong lines. Which is pretty amazing, I think.

I guess if both IM and PS are ill though, the play gets cancelled. Fingers crossed they both make it through to 17th December!
If an understudy is going on, they will most likely try and invite as many of their family, friends, agents and industry friends as time and capacity allow. So often there will be someone there to see the understudy.

Occasionally some theatres host understudy performances to an audience. These can be a good way to get to see a show without paying the normal ticket prices if you're not concerned about the names (but finding out about them and getting tickets isn't often easy).
@David - Understudies will often be expected to cover as many roles as they can (it's quite the expense to pay an actor to not do any work in the normal run of things - unless you've got a 'chorus' to call on for lead roles). It's not unusual for an understudy will cover all the roles that they broadly match for age and gender...

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