Many will declare that there is in fact no problem with the West End – thousands upon thousands of us watch the shows and have a brilliant time. Sadly that is just theatre’s naturally glossy shine and full beam smile; scratch the surface and something sinister lies beneath. Anyone who has read my previous blogs or monitored the situation themselves will be aware of the lack of new shows in the West End and the worrying effect this is having on new creative teams.
My most recent prompt came after reading an interview with Hadley Fraser, who is currently playing Javert in Les Miserables. As someone who recently had a star role in one of the longest-running musicals, but who is also working on his own writing projects, he was asked how the situation could be rectified and one phrase he said stuck with me: “I don’t think there is a quick fix”. This sums up the current state of musical theatre and has been highlighted by many people now (well documented by the Guardian here and here) but it’s the next step – knowing how to move the genre forward – which is causing the most grief.
I liken it to raising a child and facing the nature vs nurture debate, and trying not to overthink it. Theatre is continually evolving to reflect our political and social changes, but I am not naïve enough to believe that letting nature takes its course is a worthwhile option. What I worry about is how we nurture it? Our biggest hindrance in moving forward is knowing how to quantify a moment in time as being THE moment of change, if we need a singular, definable moment at all, that is. Maybe it was last year with the birth of Matilda in the subsidised sector or maybe it has yet to happen and we are still building to it. The situation is reminiscent of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger and the rise of the ‘angry young men’; the romantics declared that it changed British theatre overnight but the more cynical disagreed, claiming that everything had been building to that moment and that it was an inevitable change in post-war Britain. It makes me wonder who, for the want of a better phrase, will be the new Osborne – or will it be a collaborative change?
The next step is always hard to predict; it might be that movie-to-musical shows will dominate from now on or that Starbucks* writers (those creating works in coffee shops and for cabaret shows in New York) will soon dominate the field as a new way for writers to be seen and heard. Another more likely contender is the creation of musicals and performers through the internet and social media – many new writers use sites such as Sound Cloud to air their work and after @westendproducer’s Twitter search (which has now resulted in a live final next month) people are getting agents and being seen by relevant and important people. All I do know is that as a history geek it excites me no end to wonder what will be said about this period of musical theatre history one day.
*This was a term coined by a friend of mine, Tanya Williams, who is an expert in Off-Broadway writers and how their careers start e.g Jason Robert Brown and Scott Alan.
Image credit: Hannah Swithinbank.