Opinion: Intervals – Who Needs Them?

I went to see the play Jeepers Creepers at the Leicester Square Theatre a couple of weeks ago. It was no classic and received some pretty poor reviews. Some critics could not help mention that there had been an "unnecessary" interval, pushing the play to a running time of 90 minutes when maybe it would have fared better as 75 minutes straight through.

Then last week Tony Law was at the same venue. I was a bit tight for time and couldn’t make the 9.30pm start and 10.30pm finish. This show also turned out to have an interval, which meant that a set that only lasted an hour on the Edinburgh Fringe finished as the clock ticked towards 11pm.

Judging from the write-ups neither show benefited from the break. So who exactly is the pause button pushed for? I guess it doesn’t do the venue's bar-takings any harm. And maybe some fans – and even performers – need a toilet break. Comedy shows at the Eventim Apollo tend to have an interval, but Billy Connolly has never had one when I’ve seen him there and you’d think as a man in his seventies who has had prostate cancer Connolly would need a piss break more than most.

If Connolly’s epic shows don't need an interval nobody's shows need an interval artistically-speaking. I’ve always felt if a warm-up act is there to get the audience in the mood for the main attraction there is no point having a break straight after them. That way they become more “cool-down” than “warm-up”. In America the system seem to work better. The support act-cum-hype man often introduces the star turn with no need for a frantic rush to the bar between them.

I know venues are keen to have intervals to make a show feel more like an event as well as boost bar-takings, but here’s an inside tip for performers. Writing as a critic who often has to file overnight reviews, one of the best things we can read in a press release is “one hour, straight through, no interval”. That may be why comedy shows get such good reviews in Edinburgh, where 60 minutes uninterrupted is the norm. I remember being reluctant to fit in Trygve Wakenshaw’s Fringe show last summer because it had a 90 minute running time. At least there was no interval.

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