What do these hugely popular shows that are either playing in London right now, or have played there over the past few years, all have in common?
Show Stoppers: The Improvised Musical, Nell Gwynn, Funny Girl, Gypsy, Sweeney Todd, Mrs Henderson Presents, Sunny Afternoon, Matilda, Singing’ In The Rain and Urinetown. Hangmen, Constellations, The Nether, People, Places and Things, Chimerica, Bad Jews, A View From The Bridge, The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-time, Handbagged and 1984?
The answer? They all transferred into the West End from smaller venues, either in Fringe theatres around London or regional theatres around the UK. And these are just some of the ones I have reeled off of the top of my head.
But with huge shows like these starting life in places like the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Chichester Festival, The Globe, The Royal Court, Tricycle Theatre, Almeida Theatre, Hampstead Theatre, St James Theatre, The Young Vic, and the Royal Shakespeare Company, how many of us can say we have ever actually gone out of our way to visit the productions at these theatres?
It is much easier to choose a big West End show to go and see when you are looking for something to do on a night out. You see them advertised in the newspapers and stare at them as you are going up the tube escalators and because they’re on the the West End they’re surely better than something you’d see in a small theatre further out of London right? Wrong. Some of the best shows you will see in the West End started life in a smaller theatre where they had a chance to develop and tweak the show until it was at a point where it is the best it can be. Wouldn’t it be great to be that person that can recommend a West End show to a friend by smugly saying “I saw it during its original run off-west-end” whilst also knowing how much money you saved by not paying West End prices.
Ticket prices in London’s West End are notoriously high and whist the Society of London Theatre Report (which came out in February 2016) says the average ticket price customers paid in the last twelve months was a quite reasonable £42.99, we all know that to see one of the big West End shows can cost upwards of £100 (and in some cases over £200 per ticket). For an off-west-end production, you can expect to pay as little as £10, with bigger shows going up to around the £40 mark. A huge difference in price!
We will always need the bright lights of London’s West End to keep tourism thriving and to house the creme de la creme of theatre this country has to offer. But maybe next time you are looking for a show to go and see, think about potentially seeing something a bit different, which could well turn out to be the next big thing!
By West End Wilma