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Squeezing the Middle

September 30, 2015

No, I’m not clothes shopping. Well, I am looking for a winter coat, but that’s by the by and my weight isn’t a problem there. Too much information probably. Anyway. What I mean is that this year it has increasingly seemed like everybody is “searching for that sell out hit” rather than concentrating on what a few producers do best – bringing something of amazing quality in, and hoping to find an audience. “Oresteia” and “Oppenheimer” were good examples – building to full houses after a slow start; but it seems that patience is running out, and I say that is ruining the West End.

This season, I’m seeing too many theatres with the pattern, “big hit, short ‘filler’ entertainment,’ no show because we don’t have another ‘big hit’ lined up.” Even worse, most of the “star vehicles” I’ve seen this year have been a disappointment, one way or another. “Hamlet” this past weekend being the last in a long line.

Stars work to a schedule, around other booked work, years ahead in film, months in TV. They commit for a few weeks to theatre, give commentators plenty to talk about as premium seat prices reach the stalls in the gent’s lavatories, and vanish.

Frankly, we need more balance and less headlining.

Let’s see a return to a really good play, done well. Price it reasonably, give audiences a chance to find it – and who knows. “The Play That Goes Wrong” took that path, and had me reaching for my credit card the second a sequel by the same team was announced. Judging by the seats I got, I wasn’t the only one feeling the same.

Yes, one or two plays a year deserve the full “hype” treatment, possibly doing well for the whole industry by reminding the world that theatre is there and can be spectacular. When that starts to affect what investors are willing to fund to put on, there’s a problem.

Here’s hoping that producer Kenny Wax may become the person to emulate. Do a show well, keep it modest and grow your hit from seed. Plant as many as you can, care for them, and surely the West End will flower all year, rather than wither at the first frost.

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