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What does the future hold for the West End?

Posted on 27/03/2012
The Heart Of The West End conference

Playwright Richard Bean in discussion at the conference.

Whilst the sun shone over London’s West End yesterday, the heat was turned up inside the Theatre Royal Haymarket for the closing panel discussion of the two-day conference The Heart of the West End.

Playwright Richard Bean, literary associate at Sonia Friedman Productions Jack Bradley, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre Julian Bird and Guardian theatre critic Lyn Gardner debated the current and future state of London’s West End at the event organised by Royal Holloway, University of London  in association with the V&A and Theatre Royal Haymarket.  

Available in a podcast from WhatsOnStage.com, the discussion follows on from the excitement generated on Twitter by this timely event in a week that saw Time Out London proclaim the ‘West End Rules’, whilst Mark Shenton, in his blog for The Stage, questioned whether it was ‘Crisis time in the West End?’

Chaired by Karen Fricker, Royal Holloway academic and theatre critic for Variety, the atmosphere sizzled with some frank and open exchanges. Richard Bean called for a crackdown on ticket touting, whilst Jack Bradley called for more women to step up and run West End theatres. On the subject of ticket pricing, Julian Bird noted that New York’s level of discounting was far worse than that of the current West End’s, whilst Lyn Gardner shared her view that the West End needs a greater level of collaborative working. This final panel was by no means the only provocative discussion over the two day conference (25 – 26 March), initiated and organized by Dr Gilli Bush-Bailey from the Department of Drama and Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London.

The event, the first ever conference hosted by Theatre Royal Haymarket, and presented in collaboration with the V&A, brought together academic researchers with stakeholders from the cultural industry with the aim of opening up discussions about the past, present and future of commercial theatre in London. Representatives from SOLT, TMA and the Theatres Trust joined together in the call for more discussion, but also for routes to action:

  • on ticket pricing
  • on how to engage and encourage new audiences, producers, writers
  • on regulation for listed theatre buildings that prevents their modernization for public access
  • on the need for an evaluative and comparative study on NY ‘off-Broadway’ building and whether such a model could provide new emerging theatre-makers with the experimental theatre spaces they want in the West End
  • on the important issues for the present and future of an industry that earns in excess of £88m in VAT for the government and in 2011 generated £528, 375,874 worth of commercial activity

These and many more ideas and initiatives will form the basis of ongoing plans to seek funding for an academic research project in collaboration with industry partners with recognizable benefits for the many creative and innovative stakeholders that are the heart of the West End.


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