You may well scoff at me when I say this, but I very strongly believe that the West End needs a revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic, and once the longest running in the World, musical, CATS!
This week we have heard of yet more shows on the West End and fringes closing early, and, with a few others that the industry expects to go very soon, the West End is crying out for a new production to open, one with the stamina and staying power needed to help pull the West End through these difficult times in our economy.
Although we cannot directly discuss West End ticketing figures, if we look to Broadway, who freely post their Grosses each week, you can immediately see which shows are doing well, and which ones are hemorrhaging money every week. Some shows are simply packed to the rafters night on night, without a single seat spare, even after having ran for years, (and with people actually paying to stand), whereas other shows are only just scraping a rather mediocre number/percentage of their seats being filled, having been open for only a fraction of the time.
The same can be broadly applied to the West End – shows tend to either be huge runaway successes, and sold out night on night, or else they struggle from the outset. I don’t really buy into the idea that people are deliberately spending less at the moment (it is a fact that people are happy to pay a premium for the West End, and revenues, reported annually by SOLT and reported by the British media, appear broadly consistent), but at the same time, I don’t think that it’s a direct comment on the quality of new musicals coming through at the moment, which is generally, rather high!
Perhaps, what is happening is that the shows that are selling out night on night are receiving a lot of attention from ticket bookers, selling out well in advance, and so, to that end, this would normally drive surplus traffic elsewhere to see another show. For most people, a trip to the West End is not just a trip to the local theatre, it’s an experience that you can only really get in two places on the Planet, the West End, and Broadway, and most people have travelled a considerable distance, or may have even ‘pilgrimaged’, heh! Therefore, if disappointed, most people would likely tend to book in elsewhere, and still have a great night – possibly even booking in advance to see the show that they really wanted, for their next visit.
I do think, from my personal perspective, that this high turnover of shows is directly affecting new musicals from breaking through, and is, to an extent, damaging! Early closures may be perceived by some to mean that the quality of shows in the West End is deteriorating, whereas I would argue that it’s directly the opposite! This implied notion, however, will discourage people from giving new shows a go I feel – and don’t even get me started on all of the national newspaper theatre critics, who seem absolutely determined to run the West End into the ground!! Another failure that we seem to encounter is a huge lack of marketing from certain production houses, and so people are, broadly speaking, not aware of their choices of other musicals if they cannot have their first choice.
I was absolutely gutted when the Broadway musical, HAIR, came over to the West End and closed very early into it’s run. This was the once in a lifetime chance for many people to see a Broadway show, given that they could do so right here in London, and frankly we, as a general community of theatre-goers, snubbed it! I happen to rate it as one of THE best things that I’ve ever seen on a West End stage, and it pains me a great deal to know that it didn’t get the wider appreciation and accolades that it so rightly deserved. (Not just that, but the fact we were able to get Equity to allow it, was a monumental first… something they don’t seem to be rushing to do again, it would appear!) The same is also true of great productions such as Spring Awakening, and the recently closed Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
I think that we, as a community, perhaps need to pull together and try to do as much as we can to stop musicals and other productions from closing, regardless of how we feel about them ourselves – it simply doesn’t look good for our image! That the BBC One shows fronted by Andrew Lloyd Webber have now stopped is a blessing, as the culture behind those was to only keep the show running for 18 months and then close, it would appear – certainly, that’s what they’ve all done!
Of course, there is little that we, as the theatre-going community can do to get companies to bolster their marketing budgets and reconsider their ticket prices if things aren’t going so well for them – though a customer is more likely to take a gamble on a lesser priced top ticket for a show they hadn’t previously considered seeing if they can’t see their first choice show, surely?! However, with shops such as Dress Circle on the brink of closing, I think that it’s rapidly becoming evident that those of us who actively interested in the West End, in whatever way, and around the country, need to somehow be doing a little bit more to try to support the West End (and regional theatre!), which ultimately, and in the grand scheme of things, is also huge revenue boost to the UK economy (don’t even get me started on the recognition and tax breaks I think we should be getting…!!).
One thing that I am definitely not saying is that we currently don’t do anything at all – I know we regulars all try really hard to do our bit, and some people absolutely go the extra mile in this realm. I also know many people who work tirelessly in the West End, and my heart goes out to anyone who in the last few weeks has perhaps found out after everyone else that they no longer have a job anymore… often with a very short closing notice!
I, for one, would love to hear what I myself can do, as someone who works in the West End, and who reviews a fair number of shows (I’ve always liked the possibility that my reviews may help people decide upon buying a ticket for these shows, and if even one person has done so after reading, I would be thrilled, though I mainly write for pleasure, without any agenda). To that end, if anyone has some suggestions, I would love to hear from you – I’d really like to get even more involved in our West End community if possible, and I am definitely not afraid to get hands on! 🙂
For those people who are wondering why I’ve held CATS up as a musical that I’d really like to see, it’s simple – let’s get another ready-made, well established, West End stalwart back on the scene, so that we can have a production that we know will stick around, and which is a great show for all the family. Currently, and having looked at what was available for Kids Week, you can’t help but notice that much of it isn’t really all that suited for kids! Not only that, but the job creation would be massive for the West End, as this show requires a lot of manpower in terms of cast and creatives! CATS was the musical that started it all of for me, and is a great show for anyone to get into and get behind, in my opinion. Wouldn’t it be great to have all those legendary costumes back, the fantastic make up and the high campery of it all?! It’s a show that visually sells itself! It is, in my opinion, a show that would sell really well, and is another show that families, perhaps disappointed not to get into other high selling family shows, would certainly book themselves in for as an alternate, I feel. Tourists would certainly love it, and as would several theatre regulars/enthusiasts I’m sure!
These are just my personal thoughts, and I hasten to stress that, however the current rate of closures in the West End, and therefore, the high turnover of shows, is something that currently concerns me – the West End as a brand is very valuable, and is, frankly, one of the main draws/reasons I moved down to London, as, I suspect, that it was for many others. To see people becoming unemployed so frequently, and after they’ve worked so hard, and invested a lot of money, something scarce to come by these days, is frankly heartbreaking!
Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom at the moment, with some recent openings, such as Ghost The Musical and Betty Blue Eyes managing to generate a real buzz around town when they opened, and the effects of them being able to do so were very noticeable, I thought. It would be great if each opening, which often represents hundreds of thousands of pounds of direct investment into our community, were able to generate a similar amount of hype and enthusiasm, which ultimately proves infectious and motivational!
Demand is still definitely very much out there, and as strong as ever, and so if somehow the industry can capitalise on it as much as it can (perhaps with more all-star casting, as a quick and easy solution to create a sense of event and spectacle, such as was recently done with the ever-popular Les Misérables), I think that the West End would shore up considerably and become much more well-rounded.
Let’s rally ourselves and perhaps see if we can do something about it, before we have to send it all up, up up, up to the Heaviside Layer! 😛
Oh, and if CATS is coming back, I’d like to put myself forward for either Skimbleshanks, the Rum Tum Tugger, Jennyanydots… or Grizabella!! Hehe!