Empty and in decline: The West End’s future

People everywhere are starting to pick up on the sad events happening in London’s West End.

People everywhere are starting to pick up on the sad events happening in London’s West End. More and more new shows and musicals are bombing before they’ve even begun, with big names like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Steven Ward closing after just four months in theatres.

But why is the popularity of West End theatre in such serious decline? And how bad will the consequences be for London tourism?

It’s a flop

British theatre has been in decline for several years, with theatres all over the country reporting up to 13 per cent of losses in ticket sales, and it’s now spreading to the West End. Shows like The Full Monty, which had a successful run touring around the country, is set to close after only one month in the Noel Coward Theatre.

Despite its nomination for an Olivier Award, the quality of the production evidently cannot save it from the fate of an empty audience.

Chain reaction

Back in 2010 Sir Ian McKellen realeased a statement about the fate of British theatre, with a particular focus on regional theatre. Almost four years ago, he warned against the decline of local theatres, arguing that, without them the country will never be able to produce future actors of any kind of repute. In other words, without giving actors somewhere to start, they will never have the chance to progress into the West End.

Well, it seems the great Gandalf was right, and we should all be kicking ourselves for not listening sooner. After all, how many of us look out for upcoming productions at our local hometown theatres? Unless it’s panto, fewer and fewer of us seem interested in going to see small regional productions, which has had a knock on effect for the bigger end of the business in the West End.

Cause and consequence

Lack of interest seems to the primary reason for theatre’s decline in this country, but there are other factors to consider. The rising cost of ticket prices has surely been a turn off for people trying to enjoy nights out on a budget. Theatre tickets in the West End are priced on average around £50+. Many theatres have desperately dropped prices lately, offering such deals as a pre-theatre meal, the show and an interview with the cast afterwards for just £60, but these deals are often released too late to attract much interest.

Out of touch

Another suggestion in the ongoing speculation as to why so few of us are visiting the theatre is that a lot of the shows gracing our theatres have  a very particular kind of appeal. In other words, British humour is very unique. Shows like Steven Ward, The Duck House and Yes, Prime Minister have the kind of content and dialogue that won’t appeal to the majority of tourists coming to this country.

Undoubtedly, that explains why mainstream shows like Wicked and Mamma Mia are still going strong in the West End, as most of their tickets are bought by visiting tourists, eager to see a world class show.

The solution

How can we put West End theatre back on the map? It’s a tough one to answer. In order to boost the popularity of London theatre, we need people to start caring about theatre everywhere, otherwise Broadway musicals and The Lion King will be all that’s left to see.

One thing we can do is keep supporting our National Theatre and the RSC, the anomalies in this situation, who have seen their audiences grow by 400,000 people. This crazy figure shows the incredible success of shows like War Horse around the world, and the way their reputation is drawing people to some London theatres.

It might be too much to ask British people to keep their own tourist industry alive, but it’s certainly not too much to ask each of us to take more of an interest in theatre, no matter how small the production, and do more to promote British theatre.

Without home support, the West End of London will continue to empty out, and I don’t think any of us want that.

What do you think is the future of British theatre and of the West End? Have your say in the comments section below.