Monday, 26 January 2009

Record year for West End theatre

Article from

Shows like Hairspray helped box office figures
West End theatres enjoyed another record-breaking year in 2008 despite the economic downturn, figures reveal.

The Society of London Theatre (SOLT) said box office takings increased by 3%, totalling more than £480m.

Audiences were also up 1% on 2007, reaching 13.8m as musicals, plays and dance performances proved popular.

SOLT said attendances weakened in the second half of the year as the economic crisis gathered momentum, but a strong Christmas period boosted the figures.

"Last year was a record breaking year, we didn't expect to surpass it or match it," Nica Burns, president of SOLT, told the BBC News website.

Affordable tickets

"The bottom line is we have very good shows on, full of creative talent both on stage and backstage. It shows we really are the theatre capital of the world," she added.

Ms Burns said that new shows including Zorro, Hairspray and High School Musical and a strong drama season with productions of Twelfth Night and Rain Man helped to boost figures.

She added that despite the current economic downturn, it need not be expensive to go to the theatre.

"If you are on a tight budget you can shop around and find a ticket that's affordable," she said.

"Unlike Broadway we have a much wider spread of tickets - balcony seats are within most budgets and you can often pick up a good seat at a good price," added Ms Burns.

The figures relate to the 52 theatres represented in membership of the Society of London Theatre which include all the commercial West End together with the major grant-aided London theatres.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Jersey Boys

Prince Edward Theatre
Tuesday September 16th 2008 – 2.30pm

What’s it about?
An award winning smash hit on Broadway, Jersey Boys is the tale of the legendary vocal group The Four Seasons from their humble beginnings in New Jersey through to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

What’s good?
In order to effectively play a performer such as Frankie Valli on stage you need to have an incredible vocal ability, and Ryan Molloy in the title character has this ability in abundance, every time he opened his voice to sing the audience became enthralled and were unable to take their eyes off of him in a performance which resulted in the cast receiving a standing ovation.

What’s bad?
Although the story of The Four Seasons is very interesting, and, personally I find their music to be fantastic. The intrigue for the show ends if you do not have an interest in Rock and Roll music from the 1950s. Alongside that, the realism of the times and situations that The Four Seasons found themselves in result in a large amount of swearing throughout, meaning that this play would be unsuitable for any young children that might be interested in the show.

Jersey Boys was a hit on Broadway, and is a hit in the West End. Its success is justified too as it’s a fantastically entertaining musical biopic about one of the most legendary music groups of all time.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Fat Pig

Trafalgar Studios
Thursday 28th August 2008 - 2.30pm

What’s it about?
How would you react if you started dating a fat girl? This is the dilemma facing Tom (Robert Webb) as he meets Helen (Ella Smith) and finds himself at odds from his best friend Carter (Kris Marshall) and Ex – Girlfriend Jeannie (Joanna Page) in the Neil LaBute comedy Fat Pig.

What’s Good?
A genuine chemistry appearing between Robert Webb and Ella Smith gives Fat Pig a warmth that is seen far too rarely in the West End these days, add in stellar performances from Kris Marshall and Joanna Page as well as some expert comic timing from all four, and you have a play which holds the audience in fits of laughter

What’s Bad?
The play is performed to a standard whereby any negatives would merely be nit-picking at what is in fact a fantastic production.

Fat Pig is a charmingly relevant and genuinely funny play about an all too common taboo of modern day society. A definite recommendation for fans of theatre.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Under The Blue Sky

Duke of York’s Theatre
Monday 4th August 2008 - 7.45pm

What’s it about?
Under The Blue Sky is David Eldridge’s exploration of the private lives of teachers, away from the classroom, where their lives revolve around conflicts of lust and love. The play is written as three stories, subtly related to each other.

What’s Good?
The cast, including Catherine Tate, Francesca Annis and Chris O’Dowd exert themselves to the best of their abilities and, in the most part, are able to hold the attention of the audience during their half hour acts.

What’s Bad?
Essentially the first two stories begin to repeat themselves after the first ten minutes of the act. Once this starts to happen, no matter what appears in the script to act as a “twist” to the plot, the whole performance begins to get a bit dull, and needlessly so really as before the stories become repetitive they’re actually quite interesting.

Catherine Tate recently made headlines stating that she felt the theatre was too expensive, I do agree with this opinion, however, the most annoying aspect Under The Blue Sky is that if the tickets were sold at half the price, the show would still not be anywhere near worth the admission fee.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Catherine Tate attacks West End

In an interview with the BBC, Catherine Tate openly criticised the current climate of west end theatre saying; "Putting [TV stars] in plays just to get people in is wrong,"

The full BBC interview can be viewed at

Auditorium believes that in her interview, Catherine Tate was spot on as to highlighting the current issues that are dogging the West End.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Is Reality TV destroying West End Theatre?

It’s currently the hottest debate in theatre, ticket sales have never been higher, a whole new generation of audience are visiting the West End and reality TV has once again been proven to hold the golden touch when it comes to producing successful content for a mass audience.

But is this current climate really a renaissance for the west end musical? Or is the latest reality craze infact one of the worst things that could have possibly happened to West End theatre?

When looking at the shows, which have been born from the Reality TV craze, The Sound Of Music, Grease, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat and Oliver! You are immediately faced with an interesting question; are the latest marketing ploys to capture an audience for these shows really any different from the previous marketing ploys that these shows used?

The Sound Of Music has not been performed on the West End stage since 1981, when the role of Maria was played to critical acclaim by Petula Clark, however the show itself is hardly one that needs much marketing, especially considering its status as one of the greatest musicals ever made.

Grease, recently voted in as the Greatest ever musical in a poll conducted by Channel Four, has seen many of its former stars become household names such as John Travolta and Richard Gere.
However, in its last creation as a West End show in 1993 the show used a marketing concept that was very popular at the time, casting stars of TV and music to play the lead roles. With the case of Grease, Neighbours star Craig McLachlan and Pop star Debbie Gibson were cast as Danny and Sandy, later in the show’s run they were replaced by TV personality Shane Richie and Pop star Sonia.

Joseph, it can be argued, started the trend of casting TV stars as the lead performers in West End shows as, in 1991, Neighbours star and teen heartthrob Jason Donovan was cast in the new West End production, the role of Joseph was handed over to TV Presenter Philip Schofield a few years later, and after Philip Schofield, Pop Idol Donny Osmond was cast as the man with the Technicolor coat.

Oliver! like The Sound of Music, has continued throughout its history to cast using more seemingly traditional mould of proven West End performers, who, through their work in Oliver! among other roles would become household names later in their careers such as Ron Moody, Barry Humphries and Phil Collins.

So why is there such a controversy surrounding this issue currently? Surely all of these shows are just marketing using the latest trends.
One of the issues stems from the critics; are these reality shows genuine? Lee Mead was cast as Joseph, however his previous job was as understudy for the role of Raoul in the West End production of Phantom of the Opera.
In The Sound of Music, Connie Fisher, a Call Centre worker had just graduated from The Mount view Academy for the Arts where she attended under a scholarship for singing.
Grease, also apparently casting amateurs cast Susan McFadden, a professionally trained actress from Ireland and Danny Bayne, an amateur actor but former Youth World Champion Dancer. And one of the favourites for Oliver! Which is currently running, as a competition is Rachel Tucker, a professional actress.
As a result of this, surely these “Reality Shows” are unable to be genuine in offering “any member of the public” the opportunity to fulfil their dream, as the winners of all of these competitions have been professionally trained actors with the exceptions of Danny Bayne and the contestants of Oliver!

The shows themselves have received many mixed reviews from the critics. The Sound of Music was applauded, as was the performance of Connie Fisher. Grease was savaged by the critics, as were the performances of the leads, and Joseph, like The Sound of Music was well received by the critics with particular praise going to Lee Mead.

I, as a critic saw all three of these shows, The Sound of Music was entertaining, yet Grease and Joseph seemed to have been reduced to poor homage’s of their previous incarnations.

The shows have received the best ticket sales of the whole West End, with figures around the £2 Million mark being reached and in some cases surpassed. So, whether the shows are any good or not are arguably irrelevant, as the industry seems to now be there to make money rather than to provide live entertainment.

The BBC, who have hosted the “reality shows” to find the leads for The Sound of Music, Grease and Joseph recently came under specific complaint from Kevin Spacey, Artistic Director of the Old Vic Theatre, He argued that the BBC is breaking it’s bylaws of being a non commercial organisation by broadcasting the shows, he said, "I felt that was essentially a 13-week promotion for a musical - where's our 13-week programme?"

Across the West End, how do musicals compare? Hairspray, winner of Best Musical 2008 at all four of the major UK theatre awards is currently one of the most popular musicals around, however it is possible to buy two tickets for an evening performance of Hairspray, which takes place this week. This is in comparison to Joseph, where the only shows before June 2008, which you can book two tickets to see the show in, are during the period next week where Lee Mead is on holiday.

Does this say anything about the quality of the show? No, what it does say is that the current West End theatre audience would rather go and see the performance that they feel they had a say in casting. Is this a shock? No. Is this a trend that the industry should be encouraging? No. And why not?

The answer I feel is simple; the productions of Grease and Joseph, which I saw, were pantomime- esque throughout the performance.
I, like many, got my first real experience of theatre by going to the pantomime, for the best part of the first ten years of my life, my family and I went to the pantomime, where audience participation is encouraged and so on. However, I was also taken to West End shows featuring the stars of my childhood, I saw Grease with Shane Ritchie and Sonia in the leads, I also saw Joseph with Philip Schofield in the lead.

Were either of the trips to the West End pantomime- esque for me? No, the reason for this is that my parents taught me about the etiquette of theatre; if you spend up to £75 for certain shows, you do not want to hear the audience scream with excitement when they catch a glimpse of their star. For £75 you expect the etiquette of theatre to be upheld; no mobile phones, no flash photography and no pop concert like behaviour.

So, is this Reality TV trend destroying theatre? The answer I feel is Yes and No. Yes because people are being introduced to the art through productions that do not represent the level of skill that the West End holds, also the timely etiquette of theatre is being slowly removed with concert like cheering and popcorn being sold in the aisles.
The answer is also No however because all that these shows are doing are using the latest marketing techniques and by doing this they are introducing a whole new audience to West End Theatre which, in the grander scale of things is the best outcome for the industry.