Michael BIllington believes that the theatre boom in the West End contributes to the degradation of the quality of theatre in London. I agree with Billington's position. The ticket prices in the West End coupled with the excessive amount of repetitive productions is not good for the theatre tradition or for the consuming public. Furthermore, I believe that the audiences have the power to effect creative change in the West End.
In his 2011 article, Billington has two primary concerns. One concern is the escalating prices of theatre tickets. His secondary concern is the reduction in originality and creative ingenuity of the theatre community. Thus, not only are tickets too expensive, audiences are paying rising prices for old ideas. The revivals and older plays are not even produced with a new creative spin -- like a Shakespearean play with a contemporary or conceptual twist. Those kinds of shows are not happening either.
A similar situation befell the Broadway theatre distinct in New York City. During the earlier portion of the 21st century and the latter of the 20th century, a great deal of productions on Broadway were remakes. Prices skyrockets and audiences dwindled. The press wondered if Broadway was dead or just in a coma. Then came along fresh ideas such as Green Day's "American Idiot" and Matt Stone & Trey Parker's "The Book of Mormon." Even the accident-prone "Spiderman," with more than its fair share of mishaps and delays, finally took off and invigorated Broadway in a way never previously done.
New ideas brought to life through the theatrical vehicle inspired altered the perspectives of audiences and producers regarding what kinds of narratives musical theatre and traditional theatre can tell. These ideas opened new avenues and make available new opportunities for shows. Audiences responded loudly and positively. Broadway is bigger than ever in New York City. Prices are low, moderate, and high, yet audiences are more willing to shell out the money because of the shift in quality of ideas and production. Therefore, there is potential in London.[footnoteRef:2] [2: Wolf, M. 2006. Does London have too many musicals? The New York Times, Available from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/19/arts/19iht-lon20.3952342.html?pagewanted=all. 2012 February 22.]
The theatre tradition in Europe and in London proudly reaches back for centuries into history. I think it is because many of us enjoy the theatre so much and derive so much pleasure from it that writers such as Billington criticize the West End musicals so abruptly and directly. He writes: "In a nutshell, I'm delighted that West End business is holding up. But, before we start talking complacently about the 'theatre boom,' we should ponder both the escalating cost of tickets and the actual quality of what is in offer."[footnoteRef:3] [3: Billington, M. 2011. This West End theatre boom is not at all good news. The Guardian, Available from http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/31/west-end-theatre-boom-ticket-prices. 2012 February 17.]
He does not want to see the theatre district shut down and defunct; he wishes the theatre tradition to thrive and grow. There lacks innovation and fresh perspective to many of the productions in the West End. Schmidt writes that the issues of rising prices and dwindling creativity has persisted since the 1990s:
"Ticket prices, which have increased 24% since 1991, have had an effect, too, as producers try to recoup some of the higher cost of theatrical production in London. But some critics and producers say the West End's difficulties are not merely the result of a downturn in economic fortunes, but rather a reflection of something much larger: the notion that the West End is struggling to redefine itself in the face not only of waning audiences but also of a nagging sense that truly innovative theater is being done elsewhere."[footnoteRef:4] [4: Schmidt, W. 1993. Identity Crisis for London's Theater District. The New York Times, Available from http://www.nytimes.com/1993/02/10/theater/identity-crisis-for-london-s-theater-district.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm. 2012 February 25.]
Billington and theatregoers who agree with him simply long for the thrill of captivating and new energy in West End musicals. He wants to generate awareness in the theatre-going public. He contends:
"But it's not just the rising ticket prices that worry me. It's also the sense of stasis afflicting the West End. There are, as ever, 20 musicals now running. The real problem, however, is that so many of them have been there so long or are spin-offs from movies or albums. The one cheering piece of news is that the forthcoming Betty Blue Eyes, admittedly based on an old Alan Bennett film, is at least the work of a living British musical team, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. When it comes to plays, there is a heavy reliance on solid revivals…"[footnoteRef:5] [5: Billington, M. 2011. This West End theatre boom is not at all good news. The Guardian, Available from http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/31/west-end-theatre-boom-ticket-prices. 2012 February 17.]
Billington seeks to inform the public that prices are going up and they are going up for no good reason. The same old shows are going up, only much more of them at once. We do not pay high prices to go see old films at the cinema. Why should we pay outrageous prices to see nothing but classic plays distilled to flat remakes?
How do the rising prices relate to the production of remakes? Schmidt presents the argument that
"At the heart of the problem are soaring production costs. According to one estimate, the cost of putting on a straight play in the West End has nearly tripled in the last 10 years, to as much as $375,000 for a production with a small cast and perhaps one set change. (Such a play would cost about three times that much on Broadway). As a result, critics argue, London producers and theater owners have been forced to raise ticket prices -- which can be more than $30 for many straight plays and close to $50 for musicals -- to recover growing expenses. And, perhaps more importantly, they have become increasingly wary of taking risks."[footnoteRef:6] [6: Schmidt, 1993. ]
These remakes and revivals are costing producers and costing audiences. Audiences pay the price of unoriginal ideas and soaring ticket prices. Eventually, despite tourism and tradition, audience participation in the theatre will dwindle. Producers pay the price as the costs to produce the remakes and revivals are higher than ever before. They pass the financial hardship over to the consumer who eventually will seek other, more cost effective means of comparable entertainment pedigree elsewhere. And where will the theatre tradition and the West End be then? Producers and consumers alike would pay a great cost with the lost and deterioration of the theatre tradition in London. Though these remakes draw crowds, they will not forever. Instead of pushing creative stagnation back with more new ideas, as Schmidt writes, producers are wary of trying anything new. They have created a bit of a Catch 22 in the West End. No one wins and everyone is stuck and dissatisfied.
The Society of West End Theatres disagrees with Billington as his assertions about theatre quality and ticket prices.[footnoteRef:7] According to Schmidt, [7: The Society of London Theatre. 2009. Theatreland boom begins in Leicester Square: tkts booth spearheads records sales in West End theatre. Available from www.tkts.co.uk. 2012 February 22.]
"Not everyone agrees with that assessment. The Society of West End Theaters, which monitors audience and ticket data and aggressively markets London's commercial and subsidized theater, argues that the situation is not nearly as bad as critics like Mr. Billington contend. In fact, the society argues, the constant churning among West End playhouses is a sign of vitality rather than of trouble. There is also evidence, theater managers say, that a slight improvement in the economy is giving a second wind to a number of commercial productions that might not have survived only a few months…