Last week, as The Sultan's Elephant brought theatre and spectacle onto the streets and straight to the people, an apt debate titled West End Theatre Should Be Sunk In The Atlantic. took place at the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark. Time Out’s Deputy Theatre Editor, Rachel Halliburton. David Rosenberg, Director of the Shunt Collective and Phil Willmott, Artistic Director of The Steam Industry represented the non-West End theatre side and argued for the swift plunging of “dull, unimaginative” crowd pleasers into the Atlantic to save us all the misery of commercial theatre as “glorified tourist attraction.”
On the other side arguing for the continued creation, promotion and developement of commercial theatre was was Matthew Gale, West End producer of plays including Elmina’s Kitchen and My Name is Rachel Corrie, and Julian Woolford, director of The Musical of Musicals (The Musical). They argued that all theatre is commercial and that without the money that comes through large-scale, crowd-pleasing West End shows, the British economy overall would suffer and subsidised arts (already constantly under threat) could not flourish. The two are dependent on each other - and of course, in the end, we must suffer the lows to fully appreciate the highs of an artform that thrives on variety and contrast.
We like to think of West End theatre as the dumber but better dressed older sister of independent theatre in London, who has more celebrity friends and gets more pocket money than its poorer but more talented and interesting younger sister, London's independent theatre. Both can get along fine as long as the older sister doesn't mind occasionally lending some celebrity and cash to its struggling sibling. At the end of the debate, the final count of 19 against the motion to 10 for saved the West End from death by Atlantic drowning. London theatre - all of London theatre lives another day.
While commercial theatre is granted another day's grace, commercials are appearing in theatre. A live advert in a stage performance will be performed in Dublin on 16th May before the start of the Gaiety Theatre's Saturday Night Fever. Six actors, including Pauline McLynn, aka Mrs Doyle from Father Ted "will use dialogue to reproduce the sights and sounds of London." It's intended to promote London's West End to international theatre-going audiences and was developed by and paid for by Visit London and premiered at The Comedy Theatre in London's West End with Robert Lindsay. It will go on tour from Dublin to Madrid, New York and Philadelphia. As concluded in last week's debate, West End theatre isn't going down - it's going everywhere.