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West End Plays

Think of the West End and you think of bright lights, big shows and old fashioned live entertainment that doesn’t take too much thinking about. However, after breaking records and flying largely unscathed through the credit crunch in 2008, the West End may have become a little over confident.

So far, only two major musicals have been set to open in 2009, with Priscilla Queen of the Desert already dazzling audiences at the Palace and Sister Act ready to take the Palladium in May. This year has seen an influx of high culture plays, predominantly from fringe and regional venues including, unusually for the West End, two repertory in Sam Mendes’ The Bridge Project and Chichester’s double bill of Ronald Harwood plays at the Old Vic and Duchess respectively. The Wyndham’s Theatre’s season of Donmar productions has been hugely successful with serious plays by celebrated writers, featuring some of the UK’s most venerated acting talent.

This could well be due in part to the discerning, perhaps snobbish, tastes of the prestigious Olivier Awards. In 2009, the West End’s most popular shows were disregarded while short running plays in fringe venues shone brightly. The apparent efforts of Theatreland to pander to the Oliviers is a risky move. Certainly, London theatre on the whole has remained unscathed in the shaky financial climate. However, 2008 saw a spate of small, serious plays closing early through lack of sales and it is these productions that are now pouring into the West End by the bucketload. Madame de Sade, written by tragic Japanese intellectual Yukio Mishima and starring the revered Dame Judi Dench, opened to horrific press reviews this week. Surely the mauling of Madame de Sade, which had ‘hit’ written all over it, shows how the West End is getting ahead of itself. The recession is far from over and Theatreland cannot afford to go beyond what it does best; simple entertainment and sheer escapism.

Published: 01/04/2009 16:04:06