Chasing The Youth Audience 1

London, The Arts

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.

4 comments on “Chasing The Youth Audience 1”

  1. porl says:

    gotta agree,the west end leaves me cold.
    ive schlepped all the way down from manchester to see The notebook of Trigorin at the Finborough. fringe is where its at, and currently pub theatre rules!
    i can see between 6 and ten well written and finely crafted show for the equivalent cost of seeing a plastic tacky regurgitated stagin of some film i wasnt that keen on first time round, without its “retro-outing”…

  2. Theatre just isn’t part of most young people’s lives away from the performance, the way that cinema or live music is. It’s somewhere you might go to see your English or Modern Languages set texts happen live and that’s it… otherwise, it’s simply stopped registering outside the small number of young people who dedicate masses of free time to it. When was the last time anyone else updated their Facebook, etc., and said ‘Wow, you’ve got to see this play?’

  3. Helen Martin says:

    Hmm. The prices are very discouraging to older people, too. Here in Vancouver we can still afford the main theatre companies, although they have to stage standards often to bring in large houses. I don’t know how the opera company manages to continue because most of us can’t afford season tickets, no matter how much they design witty posters.
    I was reading an article about the National Theatre’s production of “War Horse” which has had great houses for what – 2years? Those house should have helped fund something more experimental, although that production is on the edge of experimental. It was a sure seller, being from a very popular kids’ book, so it drew in schools, families and the older people who would appreciate it as a nostalgia piece from the first war. By experimental do you mean by theme, by production techniques or what? An older play that deals with currently relevant themes would be just as culturally important as an electronic music/nude cast/vulgar language piece dealing with the same themes and might make some middle class people think more deeply about current events. (What’s so terrible about us middle classers, anyway?)

  4. There’s obviously a great deal to learn about this. I believe you manufactured some beneficial points in Functions also.

Comments are closed.