Chasing The Youth Audience 1
Yesterday I had lunch with a well-known American director who is thinking of leaving England – the reason? He feels that West End theatre has been ruined by the financial model adapted from Broadway’s money-spinning formula. Tourists want spectacle and shows need to be sold around the world to make back their costs, and so we get guaranteed-audience historical dramas, brands, musicals and ‘safe’ middle-class plays at the National. Nothing experimental, nothing that mixes politics, dance, spoken word, music and art. Straightforward proscenium-arch stuff with plenty of scenery and a story that will appeal to someone who can afford a top ticket price of around £65..
It will be a terrible loss to London if this particular director decides to leave for Paris or Vienna, where they are less afraid of being experimental and original. As the cold, dead hand of Andrew Lloyd-Webber settles over the West End, killing thought and substance, many of us find ourselves heading out to see off-off West End productions where original ideas can survive.
Meanwhile, Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ concept album makes it to Broadway in the latest attempt to woo the young theatregoer. Such attempts hardly ever work because the requirements of rock and theatre tend to negate each other. Personally, I thought that ‘Spring Awakening’ was pretty dismal, and that ‘Rent’ was really for older audiences who remembered the eighties, but this is usually as young as it gets in theatre, unless you count the revival of ‘Hair’ or N-Dubz pop ‘n’ costume changes for the teen set.
The problem lies with trying so hard to draw youth money in, instead of presenting a play which allows the audience to find it and make up its mind – it seems that’s a luxury the West End can no longer afford.