Beating London Ticket Prices: ‘Titanic’
An excellent article by the ever-readable Mark Lawson here points out the new crazy-like-a-fox thinking of British theatre prices. As arts funding gets slashed across the nation, theatres have to find new ways of bringing in revenue. One way is to stage something cheap-looking and take sheds of money for it (step forward Punchdrunk and the National’s dismal ‘The Drowned Man’), but a better way is to rank prices from £8 to a staggering five grand by offering all kinds of private access to the performance and the actors, who’ll even turn up in your lounge.
As Lawson points out, the move to premium pricing was partly driven by the heavily inflated resale of tickets for hit productions by touts and sell-on sites. While it’s a funny night out, ‘The Book of Mormon’ isn’t worth £250 a ticket on a dodgy website.
A better way is to utilise the smaller, more adventurous venues all over London that consistently stage interesting work. All Star Productions at Ye Olde Rose & Crown in Walthamstow consistently punches above its weight, and what it can’t afford on sets goes into drilling its immaculate productions. I have yet to see a single bad play there. The same goes for Southwark Playhouse, which produces West End-sized fare at a fraction of the cost. True, you don’t get a proscenium arch and you generally have to use your imagination with the settings, but their shows always immerse you and make you use your imagination, and isn’t that what theatre is all about?
Historically the London fringe has always lacked the pretension of its New York counterpart. There’s something casual and slightly shabby about it, but the desire was always to put the script before the production, content over style. Now, a new level of professional sheen seems to have made the fringe unassailable.
While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed large West End successes like ‘The Audience’, such shows become prohibitive when tickets for four cost at least £200. Often the intimacy of performance one gets at small local houses triumphs over being seated in a tiny, uncomfortable Victorian seat next to tourists explaining everything to each other and sneaking photos of the fittings.
Case in point, the Southwark Playhouse – now perambulating further out toward the Elephant & Castle – has just staged ‘Titanic’, a brave opener for the TONY award-winner that manages to be far better and more affecting than its original Broadway production. The intimacy of the space allows the audience to identify with passengers and crew rather than gawping at spectacle. The ship is conjured simply with some stairs and railings, and only one simple effect is employed to show it upending. As the complacency of the owners fades, to be replaced by the horror of the unthinkable, we get a real sense of overreaching arrogance tempered by the end of empire.
It’s a stunning, powerful piece of ensemble theatre restored to its writer’s intentions, directed with a strong sure hand, if a tad over-miked, for a tenner a head at previews in the not-quite arse-end of South London. And – I dare to suggest – it will transfer, not that transfers are the be-and-end-all of fringe, but the possibility helps keep such productions buoyant (if that’s the right word in this case), proving once again that the London fringe is the richest and most diverse in the world.