SOLT Rallies The West End

News   SOLT Rallies The West End

In reaction to press comments about the state of West End theatre, SOLT has issued a "Snapshot Report" which shows that attendance in commercial West End theatres (i.e. not including the subsidized National Theatre and the RSC) is indeed down on last year's figures: between 10% and 13% on the two week period of September 9-22.

However, the Report points out that the British Tourist Authority had expected attendance figures to be as poor or poorer than this in any case, due to the Foot and Mouth crisis earlier in the year.

Rupert Rhymes, chief executive of SOLT, told Theatrenow that although these figures were disappointing there has been an overall trend in recent years for September to be an unpredictable month, with the traditional downturn in business in August overspilling into the following month.

As Rhymes says, press attention has tended to focus on doom-laden stories about the West End as they make good "copy": "In the office we have a competition regarding which paper will first run the story, in August, about the end of the West End. I've been associated with the West End for thirty years, during each of which the same stories have regularly appeared!" In relation to the specific challenge of the New York bombings he says "Although there has undoubtedly been an effect, it has not been catastrophic. We need more information and harder facts before we can say exactly what damage has been done. Meanwhile, we will of course look at ways of helping our members promote theatre - and that's the sort of issue that will be looked at by various tourist bodies during the World Travel Market in London in November. The West End still has a wide range of very successful shows that people want to see, and it's important not to generate a crisis of confidence."

As if to prove his point—and although Peggy Sue Got Married has announced its premature closure and blamed it on the aftermath of New York— Really Useful Theatres have told the Financial Times that business is picking up to the extent that extra casual staff have been hired.

A further consideration is perhaps a wider change in social trends: these days people tend to book theatre shows (like cinema visits or trips to restaurants - and, even, holidays) on a day-to-day basis, not least because people's work patterns are less predictable: the days of leaving the office on the dot at five o'clock have disappeared. As a result, advance bookings for West End shows tend to be far smaller than they used to be, with a few notable exceptions such as My Fair Lady. Though inconvenient and difficult for producers, this is a change rather than a collapse, and theatreland will, as always, adapt and carry on.

—by Paul Webb Theatrenow