Webber & Mackintosh Cry Crisis in TheatrelandDate: 1 March 2001
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh have teamed up for a rare joint interview in order to decry the perilous state of the West End. Rather than being another rant about declining interest in or support for theatre in particular, the two theatre owners and impresarios’ concerns centre on the capital’s crumbling infrastructure.
"We have reached a critical mass where the problem of the theatre reinventing itself – as it has always had to do – is running in parallel with the fact that London needs to reinvent itself," Mackintosh maintains in the article, which appeared in last night’s Evening Standard.
The “exhausted” city and its myriad problems – traffic chaos, an unreliable Underground service, slow and unsafe rail transport, high prices and rising street crime – is taking its toll on the box office. According to Mackintosh and Webber, January returns are down 10 to 15 percent on previous years. Even some of the biggest hits, such as The Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King, traditionally seen as being impossible to get tickets for, usually have spare house capacity.
The transport troubles are a major deterrent for domestic visitors – “Mr and Mrs Manchester and Bradford and Leeds and Birmingham” are fed up with the hassle of trying to get in and out of London and are frequently deciding not to bother.
International tourists, the two say, are also being put off by such reports in the international news as well as the dinginess and danger now associated with the capital. Mackintosh and Webber particularly bemoan the levels of street crime and vagrancy in and around Shaftesbury Avenue. Four Really Useful Group theatres there – the Gielgud, the Apollo, the Queen’s and the Lyric – last summer introduced security guards to keep addicts, pushers and beggars away from theatre doors, especially as the houses are letting out.
The dilemma of protecting the theatre vicinities around the clock, however, remains acute. One of the most “unsavoury” problems is people sleeping or urinating in the entranceways. It’s impossible to build theatres up as a glamorous part of London, says Lloyd Webber, “when you have people peeing in your doors because there are not enough public lavatories”.
Producer Bill Kenwright – whose current shows Blood Brothers, Long Day's Journey into Night and Fallen Angels - added his voice to the argument. His biggest bugbear is the “filth”. “I do not enjoy bringing Jessica Lange (starring in Long Days Journey into Night) over and saying, this is the way to the stage door. As an English person, I am embarrassed.”
Though involved themselves in theatre, Mackintosh and Webber say that all West End businesses are being affected by the capital’s problems. They would like the government to take more aggressive action in improving transport, reducing crime and cleaning up the streets – not least erecting more public toilets.
- by Terri Paddock