CRISIS IN THEATRELAND; and Bill Kenwright Agrees;why Audiences Are Shunning the Wild West End;my Nightmare Evening Out

By Low, Valentine; Harris, Ed et al. | The Evening Standard (London, England), February 28, 2001 | Go to article overview

CRISIS IN THEATRELAND; and Bill Kenwright Agrees;why Audiences Are Shunning the Wild West End;my Nightmare Evening Out


Low, Valentine, Harris, Ed, Mcgowan, Patrick, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: VALENTINE LOW;ED HARRIS;PATRICK MCGOWAN

London is on the brink of a crisis, say Lord Lloyd-Webber and Sir Cameron Mackintosh.

Crime, traffic problems and a disintegrating public transport system are making the capital a turnoff for visitors. The West End theatre is being hit where it hurts most - in the box office - but the effects are the same for countless other businesses, they say.

VALENTINE LOW reports.

London is on the brink of a crisis, say Lord Lloyd-Webber and Sir Cameron Mackintosh.

Crime, traffic problems and a disintegrating public transport system are making the capital a turnoff for visitors. The West End theatre is being hit where it hurts most - in the box office - but the effects are the same for countless other businesses, they say.

Valentine Low reports ANDREW Lloyd-Webber and Cameron Mackintosh are in the dream business.

They deal in romance and glamour, the fantasies that for a few hours take people out of their everyday lives into a realm of make-believe. They do not, as a general rule, go round using words like "crisis", or wondering out loud whether London is heading the way of New York when it went bust in the 1970s.

The other day, however, these two giants of the theatre - sometime collaborators who otherwise spend their time engaged in amiable rivalry - felt sufficiently concerned about the state of the city where they made their fame and fortune to do something very unusual. They sat down to give a joint interview - a rare occurrence in itself - to voice their fears about what is happening to London.

Sir Cameron put it most bluntly. "We are rapidly approaching a crisis," he said.

"We have reached a critical mass where the problem of the theatre reinventing itself - as it has always had to do - is running in parallel with the fact that London needs to reinvent itself.

At the moment it is a rundown version of what we had in the 20th century.

It is exhausted."

The effect is most apparent in the box office returns, particularly for the long-running shows which are so dependent on out-of-town audiences. Sir Cameron said that the figures for the West End in January were generally 10 to 15 per cent down on previous years.

He is in no doubt as to the reason: it is because London is no longer the draw for visitors that it was a few years ago. He compared the situation to what happens when a house becomes rundown. "If you live in a house you know that 10, 15 years in you suddenly realise it has got too shabby and you've got to do something about it."

For Lord Lloyd-Webber, that moment came at a drinks party he hosted early last December for ticket agents and out-of-town operators, the very people who bring his audiences up to the West End by the coachload.

What, he said to them, do you want? What can I do to make things better for you?

The answer surprised him.

What they wanted, they said, was very simple: just to be able to get their customers up to London and back again. Not better shows, or cheaper tickets, or more legroom in the upper circle, but better transport.

They told him the story of a coach party of pensioners that had come up from the provinces to see Les Miserables.

The coach arrived to pick them up from the Palace Theatre at the end of the evening, but as the show was a little late the coach was moved on. It had to drive all the way up Tottenham Court Road and back down Gower Street, and by the time it got back to the theatre they had been waiting in the cold and wet for half an hour. "They all said that was an experience they were not going to repeat," said Lord Lloyd-Webber. "That operator now is no longer operating anything to the West End."

London's stressed-out traffic system is but a part of the problem. The calamitously unreliable Underground, a railway system that is, if anything, even worse, street crime - they all conspire to dissuade visitors from making their way up West. …

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