Spirit of the Blitz Could Rally The West End

News   Spirit of the Blitz Could Rally The West End

As in wartime, theatre provides an ideal morale booster.

The effects of foot and mouth disease earlier this year and the first hints of recession have been compounded, of course, by the destruction of Manhattan's World Trade Center towers, which has further damaged short-term tourism. As far as domestic business goes, most people have preferred to watch events as they unfolded, at home, on television. This has resulted in a difficult time for the West End in general—not just the theatres but shops and, despite the trends of recent years, restaurants and hotels.

But although there have been justified cries of gloom about the effect on the box office whenever a terrorist attack takes place, in fact West End theatres make an ideal antidote to post-terrorism blues, and some sections of the industry could find themselves less affected that one might expect. Crucially, this depends on public reaction and whether or not the much-invoked spirit of the Blitz can really be revived.

Although the current situation is nowhere near that of the Second World War —or, even, the height of the IRA's campaigns—the sense of doom and gloom, and even danger, could result in a similar determination on the part of Londoners to enjoy themselves. During the War the most successful shows were the escapist ones— comedies and musicals. Two of the leading figures in the pre-War West End came up with two of their most successful shows: Noel Coward produced Blithe Spirit, a comedy about death which enabled those facing real danger to laugh at it, while also enjoying the comfortable idea that, as Coward said, death was "just a trick done with mirrors" and that we carried on as before, only on a higher plane and in the company of past celebrities like Joan of Arc.

Similarly, Ivor Novello produced The Dancing Years, an enormously successful show that ran for the whole length of the war and combined an anti-Nazi plot with some of his most memorable tunes.

In today's situation it is shows like Caught in the Net - Run For Your Wife II by Ray Cooney that are most likely to lift the spirits and provide audiences with much needed light relief from politics and world affairs. If there is a noticeable negative effect from the situation in New York, therefore, it is likely to be a marked increase in the box office at comedies like Cooney's and at romantic musicals like The Phantom of the Opera, My Fair Lady or The Witches of Eastwick.

—by Paul Webb Theatrenow

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