Mackintosh & Webber Dispute Terrorist ImpactDate: 18 October 2001
The current state of the West End has given rise to a drastic difference of opinion between two of theatreland's most prominent figures - Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd-Webber, both active producers as well as theatre owners. In an article in today's Evening Standard, in which both were interviewed, the impresarios assessed the impact of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the London theatre industry.
Mackintosh, whose musical The Witches of Eastwick posted closing notices last week, said the terrorism had had a direct and devastating effect, particularly coming as it has in the wake of the foot-and-mouth outbreak and a generally declining economy.
Since 11 September, six West End shows have posted closing notices, four of them musicals - Witches, Notre Dame de Paris, Peggy Sue Got Married and Closer to Heaven - which are, at the best of times, most dependent on a continually replenished supply of tourists.
But Lloyd-Webber isn't buying it. He told the Standard: "Those who say we are in trouble because of 11 September are hiding behind the crisis. The musicals that have closed were doing no business before this problem started - I don't think it is an aggravated version of what goes on normally."
What is not in dispute is that, overall, audiences for commercial theatre are dropping, down ten percent over the past year. And certainly an absence of tourists doesn't help - they make up around thirty percent of West End audiences on average. The knock-on effects of a theatrical malaise aren't insignificant either. The 1998 Wyndham Report, commissioned by the Society of London Theatre, demonstrated the economic importance of the West End. As one of the UK's biggest tourist attractions, West End theatre is responsible for some 41,000 jobs and more than £200 million in tax revenues annually. In 1997, West End theatregoers spent some £433 million on restaurants, hotels, transport and merchandise, in addition to the £250 million spent on the 11.5 million tickets sold.
One thing that Mackintosh and Lloyd-Webber do agree on is the ineffectiveness of mayor Ken Livingstone's office to do anything in support of theatres and other central London businesses. Back in March, long before the terrorist attacks, the two impresarios teamed up to decry the capital's crumbling infrastructure - including poor transport, street crime and pollution - which they felt were putting theatregoers and other visitors off. They have not been impressed with the mayor's efforts to deal with these issues.
In Mackintosh's opinion, "Ken Livingstone has blanketed himself in complete uselessness as far as London is concerned. He's completely ineffective as someone trying to get the city going."
In reaction to the current crisis, Mackintosh would like to see the mayor become more involved in a way similar to that of New York mayor Rudy Guiliani, who has backed a multi-million pound advertising campaign to lure domestic audiences back to Broadway. Livingstone has reportedly formed a tourism action group to analyse the situation. It will make its recommendations in a fortnight.
- by Terri Paddock