News that the Society of London Theatres is initiating a survey of the fabric and condition of the West End's playhouses has led some theaterati to question whether the survey is a straightforward issue or something more involved.
SOLT chief executive Rupert Rhymes has announced a West End-wide theatre survey, in conjunction with the Theatres Trust, to establish the condition of London's major theatre stock. The idea is to identify the extent of remedial/restorative work neccessary and, where appropriate, to ask for government and lottery grants. (This is on the basis that theatre owners cannot afford the rolling repairs necessary.)
The concept is likely to raise eyebrows in Whitehall, given that many previous generations of theatre owners managed perfectly well and that Andrew Lloyd Webber, for example, has restored the vast Cambridge Theatre (scene of Ivor Novello's last spectacular musical, King's Rhapsody and current home of another blockbuster, Les Miserables) to its previous glory. Stoll Moss (whose theatres were bought by Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Groop) spent, under Janet Holmes a Court, a small fortune smartening up the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London's oldest and grandest theatre.
As such, some feel there may be another agenda at work. Peter Longman, of the Theatres Trust, has been quoted as saying that the survey might well lead to a move away from proscenium arch theatres. He cited the radical redevelopment of theatres like the Royal Opera House (which remains a proscenium venue) and the Royal Court as examples that listed status doesn't preclude major structural change.
How a survey into fabrics might lead to decisions to pull apart some listed buildings and turn them from proscenium to thrust or in-the-round (configurations generally advocated on artistic grounds rather than economic or structural ones) is unclear. What is worrying some members of the theatre community is whether the survey could be used for more political purposes than are immediately apparent. by Paul Webb Theatrenow