How To Succeed In the West End Without Really Trying

Dave Haste
By Dave Haste Last edited 156 months ago
How To Succeed In the West End Without Really Trying

Well, you can’t.

By all accounts, if you’re thinking of staging a new play in the West End, be aware that it’s going to be bloody hard work, and will probably cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. Sorry, but there it is.

With London’s theatre industry supposedly booming, West End theatre-goers are often paying premium prices for tickets, and are consequently averse to ‘taking a risk’ on watching new shows. The theatres in the West End have responded to this demand by preferring to stage well-established shows, often featuring high-profile stars, rather than take the risk of trying to attract audiences with new plays.

Still, although the story of a new play’s attempts to break into the West End might be a melodrama, it needn’t always be a tragedy. A handful of West End theatres have started to buck the trend, and are keen to show new plays. Howard Panter, managing director of the Ambassador Theatre Group, intends his two-stage Trafalgar theatre to showcase previously unknown shows:

I see Trafalgar 2 as an incubator. We also sometimes put seed-corn money into fringe theatres to encourage new work.

‘Seed-corn’? We had to google that one. But you get the idea. Mr Panter’s group is also planning to support new plays with an annual prize, which should help with some of the financial challenges of staging such shows.

And it’s not just the Ambassador Theatre Group who are giving new plays a chance of success. Channel 4 have also run a competition to give new plays a shot at West End staging (and, of course, no shortage of television coverage).

For playwrights who are not too keen on relying on one-off competition wins for a chance of getting their plays into the West End, there is always the pragmatic route of staging a play in a subsidised or fringe theatre, as a hopeful stepping stone to bigger things. Sadly though, it is becoming increasingly difficult for new plays to make this leap.

Alternatively, budding Stoppards could simply rely on the quality of their work to just sell itself. We reckon that a jaunty little musical charting the fortunes of an ambitious window-cleaner (and would-be playwright) who uses charm, nepotism and blackmail to conquer theatreland would be a sure-fire winner.

No? Suit yourselves then.

Last Updated 20 February 2006