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The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion - Is this a lager I see be­fore me, asks Peter Craw­ley

Acou­ple of years ago, when an Ir­ish theatre com­pany read through a stack of new play sub­mis­sions, one drama was scorn­fully re­jected. There were plenty of good rea­sons to dis­miss it – hap­less plot­ting, leaden di­a­logue, etc – but the script ac­tu­ally drew gasps of dis­gust when it sug­gested that a par­tic­u­lar bev­er­age, men­tioned through­out the play, might just as eas­ily be changed to what­ever brand name the theatre com­pany could wring some spon­sor­ship from.

That dis­ap­proval typ­i­fies the theatre’s re­la­tion­ship with prod­uct place­ment. Movies may have long since sold their soul to clunky en­dorse­ments and com­mer­cial tie-ins. TV has never lagged too far be­hind, and even lit­er­a­ture (if we ac­cept Fay Wel­don’s The Bul­gari Con­nec­tion as such) has cashed in. The theatre doesn’t like its muse to be quite so mer­ce­nary.

The stage has been largely in­su­lated from embed­ded com­mer­cials, but that may be chang­ing. One re­cent Dublin show promi­nently fea­tured Heineken bot­tles, lib­eral men­tions of the Four Sea­sons ho­tel and the Ice Bar, to­gether with pro­gramme note shout-outs to Dubarry and Pamela Scott, among oth­ers.

No­body splut­tered in dis­be­lief – the show was The Last Days of the Celtic Tiger, and the thought of a Ross O’Car­roll Kelly play that wasn’t dizzy with com­mod­ity fetishism is as in­con­ceiv­able as Godot brought to you by FedEx.

There are more spe­cific and unashamed men­tions of Kim­ber­ley bis­cuits, Twiglets, Honey & Lemon Lock­ets, Kel­log’s break­fast ce­re­als and even Com­plan in the plays of Martin McDon­agh and Mark O’Rowe, but they aren’t there to at­tract in­vest­ment; they em­broi­der the plays with the stitches of our con­sumer-ad­dled pop cul­ture.

In fact, a con­tem­po­rary play is now more likely to draw at­ten­tion to it­self through prod­uct dis­place­ment; if a char­ac­ter or­ders a beer, say, with­out de­cid­ing which kind, it’s a dis­junc­tion with re­al­ity. But if brand names are just part of our ev­ery­day di­a­logue, why should they bother pay­ing for any on­stage men­tions?

For ex­am­ple, the Broad­way mu­si­cal Legally Blonde swirls with in­nu­mer­able prod­ucts, from Red Bull to Tif­fany’s neck­laces, but didn’t earn a cent for any of th­ese in­clu­sions – the pro­duc­ers de­cided that it wasn’t worth ask­ing. Con­tro­ver­sially, though, in 2005 the ven­er­ated play­wright Neil Si­mon changed the script of Sweet Char­ity to al­low a men­tion of Gran Cen­te­nario tequila (which did pay for the priv­i­lege), while just last month McCain Oven Chips – how’s that for glam? – coughed up to have its wares fea­tured in The Old Vic’s 24 Hour Plays Celebrity Gala.

So, does it pay to ad­ver­tise? We may soon find out. With state fund­ing for theatre re­ceiv­ing a measly 3 per cent in­crease for next year, theatre com­pa­nies will have to be­come more re­source­ful in get­ting their shows up and run­ning. Don’t be sur­prised, then, if fewer com­pa­nies scoff when a brand name sur­faces in a new play and start con­sid­er­ing their rates. pcraw­ley@ir­ish-times.ie

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