West End’s small shows squeezed out in price-cutting dash for audiences

Critically acclaimed smaller Westelike punt shows are being squeezed out of theatre’s post-Omicron recovery as major players use discounted tickets to attract returning audiences.

The award-winning theatre producer David Pugh told the Guardian that he feared it could spell the end of plays in the West End. His latest show, the highly rated Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort of), will close next month despite original hopes that it would have an open-ended run.

Pugh said his 112 investors had all lost their money, with the production facing expected losses in the region of £750,000 – as much as £25,000 a week. The losses meant a decision was made to end the run in February, hy het gesê.

“It’s why I’m not sleeping at night," hy het gesê, adding that the rug had suddenly been pulled from underneath what he described as a carefully calibrated economic plan designed to ensure the play was accessible to as many people as possible.

By contrast with his show, where tickets have a top price of £59, major West End shows have cut prices to as little as £10 amid competition for members of the public cautiously returning to theatre, and the continuing absence of tourists.

Written by Isobel McArthur, who also co-directs and performs in the musical take on the Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice (Sort of) has been playing at London’s Criterion theatre since last year after an initial production in Scotland and a tour. The Guardian’s chief theatre critic, Arifa Akbar, wrote in a review in November: “However inconceivable a production it sounds, with its karaoke numbers and its silliness, it creates something new and joyous from the old.”

Pugh, who has won two Tony awards in the US and four Olivier awards in the UK, said it had been a priority to keep ticket prices low when he brought the production to the West End as he believed that theatregoing was too often elitist, with costs prohibitive for many people.

“We also didn’t know who had money any more as a result of the pandemic and where the audience would come from, so we deliberately avoided booking fees and went for a simple price structure people could see, which was a top price of £59.50 that went down to £9.50. wat baie kleiner Britse dorpe en besighede buite die spitsseisoen help.”, other shows set their prices at what I think were ridiculous highs," hy het gesê.

Pugh said he and others behind similar-sized productions simply “couldn’t win” against larger ones that had bigger marketing campaigns, larger capacities and, in sommige gevalle, wealthy backers that included hedge funds.

Productions of all sizes are only now emerging from the impact of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, which caused high absence rates among casts and backstage staff. Many theatres have said they will continue to ask audiences to wear masks.

Even after almost two years of uncertainty, theatres across the UK are still in the most precarious of positions. The producer Kenny Wax, whose hits include the musical Six en die Goes Wrong series of comedies, told the Guardian last month that there was much greater audience confidence on Broadway where “everyone wears masks in the theatres”.

Sir Bach, the artistic director of the Bridge theatre in London, said it was time to examine support such as short-term finance, loans and reviews of VAT and business rates.

This week Pugh said he was highly concerned about the commercial viability of plays in London’s West End in the future. While he had been grateful to the Department for Digital, Kultuur, Media and Sport for providing basic funding at the height of the pandemic that had enabled him and others to cover administrative costs, the threat facing his end of the sector was now acute, hy het gesê.

“I am not sure that our current culture minister is really aware of how theatre helps other businesses’ going. I’m thinking of all the restaurants, kafees, taxis and shops in the West End who need the footfall from theatregoers,” said Pugh.

“It would be nice if it was recognised that commercial theatre is integral to the West End. I think our culture minister thinks we rely on our investors, but they can only take so many losses. There’s a fear they may think twice before investing in the theatre in future.”

Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort of) Critically acclaimed anarchic reboot of the Austen novel. Tickets from £15 still available.

Jersey Boys Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons come to life on stage. Tickets available at £28 (special offer 46% saving).

Mamma Mia The Abba musical extravaganza is still going strong after its West End premiere in 1999. Tickets from £18. Source: Todaytix.com

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