The 2012 Olympics - let the competition (for audiences) beginDate: 2 May 2012
It's not just the athletes who will be limbering up in London this summer - Billy Elliot, Elphaba and co are set to battle it out against Usain Bolt and the Olympic hopefuls this summer.
Theatre and sport are not used to sharing the limelight - so how will they cope? Is the summer season going to be a complete car crash for the West End, or a roaring success?
The Olympics hasn't had the best press from the arts quarter - sardonic author and Newsnight-favourite Will Self has scathingly called the Olympics a "boondoggle" (a waste of time and money). Last December The Phantom of the Opera composer Andrew Lloyd Webber predicted a "bloodbath of a summer" for London musicals in a Radio 4 interview and warned that his production company the Really Useful Group (RUG) might have to close some of its shows for the duration.
Others have been more pragmatic. Nicholas Hytner, the National Theatre's artistic director, who is staging Timon of Athens during the Olympics, told the Guardian earlier this year, "I don't think we're going to have a problem. I don't think people will stop coming to the theatre, I really don't – we're bullish."
A fortnight ago SOLT marked the 100 day countdown with a "West End Warm Up" in which 100 cast members from West End shows such as Chicago assembled in Trafalgar Square today in front of the Olympic countdown clock for to welcome the world to London. But was this - to quote that very show - "an act of desperation"?
The West End welcomes the Olympics. Photo: Andrew Orange
Mark Rubinstein, the president of the Society of London Theatres (SOLT) which represents the capital's producers, theatre owners and managers, says, "The initial worry was concern about the unknown. Whereas we normally can track pretty well how London theatres will do across a year - which are the good weeks and which are the bad weeks - the Olympics are a huge extra factor."
But anxieties have largely dissipated, he believes: "As time has gone on and we've learned more about what is planned and what's happening, I think for most people that fear has dissipated.
"Whatsonstage.com readers have said they will go and see shows as they normally would, London will be full of people who are not the normal London visitors and we will do all we can to ensure theatre is part of their London experience."
Shows with big name titles - the musicals and War Horse will have a very good summer, he suggests, although other kinds of show may not fare so well.
"Summer's a very funny time anyway, because you're dealing with more of the tourists, more of a visitor audience than you do the rest of the year."
So is it futile for us to try and second guess the impact of the Olympics?
The National certainly doesn't think so. Nick Hytner's optimism has resulted in a programme of hands-on activities for day visitors - an "Inside Out" festival where in a series of workshops families, children and teens will be able to try out all aspects of the theatre-making including puppet-making or creating monster skin using extreme make-up.
Alice King-Farlow is responsible for all of the content for the National's Pop-up Workshop during the summer. She says, "From the costume to the make-up department... people are all pitching in - we're tremendously excited."
As for competing with the Olympics, "It's very much about being proactive," she says, "London will be full of people who won't be seeing the games all the time."
The National Theatre is not the only organisation to see the Olympics as"friend" rather than "foe".
The Birmingham Stage Company is staging the latest instalment of its successful Horrible Histories show, Barmy Britain.
Co-founder Neal Foster says: "We see it as a great opportunity. We've very much been working alongside the Olympics. We see it as a fantastic boost - not as creating challenges."
Will their show be guaranteed popularity because it directly appeals to the 'Britannia' feel of the Olympics?
"We just don't know how it's going to work," admits Neal.
But they have deliberately included a London landmark in virtually every scene, which could effectively make a three day tour for visitors, and the play's programme will have a map of London in it featuring all the landmarks .
So has everyone been making a fuss over nothing? The city should be heaving with people and surely all the sports fans won't just sit in their hotel rooms every evening.
But there are nevertheless pockets of unease. One PR company which represents several top musicals in the West End is apparently advising the shows not to even talk about the Olympics.
But some commentators wonder if Olympic nay-sayers such as Lloyd Webber hoping to blame the Olympics for the demise of already under-performing shows.
We just won't know until September. But there's one thing you probably can bet on - London's resilient blitz spirit. At the moment, it seems like optimism - willingly given or through gritted teeth - is set to win the day.- Vicky Ellis
The National Theatre Inside Out festival runs from 2 July to 9 September 2012.