I've been talking to my tech-loving friends at SeatPlan.com and we've been pondering what theatre might be like in the future. With serious renovations planned for the Victoria Palace and the soon-to-be Stephen Sondheim Theatre (currently the Ambassadors), as well as a new performance venue planned for Tottenham Court Road, the possibility for change is nigh. Together we have decided that there is no end to the futuristic possibilities the new-fangled buildings could contain! Join us on a flight of fancy as we imagine the possible advancements in theatre over the next 30 years…
The 3D Experience
Yeah, sure, obviously theatre is pretty three-dimensional already what with its real life actors and all, but have we really taken this as far as we can?
Cinema these days is all about donning the super trendy 3D glasses look (making cinema dates super smooth since 2008) but why should film buffs have all the fun? Imagine how immersive an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical could be with the aid of a simple pair of glasses! What if that chandelier could literally drop right in front of everyone's face? Sure, Michael Flatley has done a swell job with holograms of himself in Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games, but what if the lord of the dance himself could give you a personal lap dance? I mean tap dance. 3D glasses guys – seriously!
Why stop there? Theatres could create their virtual reality environments for their own personal virtual reality headsets, thus allowing you to star in your own musical. You could be strolling around the barricade like blooming Jean Valjean. Swagger.
The 4D Experience (!)
We are all up for a virtual reality headset, but isn't 3D a bit passé? Why not crack out four fabulous dimensions by introducing all kinds of other joyous interactive elements such as smell or touch or taste… or all of the above! Whilst current theatre has dabbled in this, such as Miss Saigon's cutting edge windy helicopter trick, the theatre powers that be could totally take this further.
Imagine SeatPlan.com of the future; we could be discussing the best seats to smell the blood of the revolution in Les Miserables or the coaly musk of the mineworkers in Billy Elliot; the best seats to feel the cool breeze of the underground canal in Phantom of the Opera and even the best seats in which to taste Wonka's marvellous creations in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Oh the possibilities!
My friends at SeatPlan.com are obviously all about helping people find the best seats possible in London's many lovely theatres, but imagine what the future could hold in terms of hospitable places to perch ones derriere. Sure, seats may currently be a few decades old (apart from in the somewhat plush Prince Edward Theatre where the new chairs are divine) but imagine when Cameron Mackintosh finally caves and installs La-Z-Boy recliners in all of his venues. Cup holders galore! And, wait, actually, make those massage La-Z-Boy chairs… with built in surround sound and a place to stow your suitcase underneath them. So many birds with just one, multifunctional stone. Bliss!
With the decline of the printed word in recent generations, the National has already started introducing digital programmes, an excellent idea that we think will be a trail blazer for other venues. Maybe then they won't cost £4 right? But why stop there? There is no end to the fun the digital age could bring! For instance, why not take a leaf out of Amazon's book and deliver interval orders by drones? Yep, drones. Drones yielding ice-cream, drones yielding mini wines and gins in tins right to your seat. You know it makes sense.
Theatre Ushers vs Robots
Whilst we have all these drones flying around, why not replace theatre ushers altogether and instead fill the venues with kindly robots? Robots will never make mistakes with petty change and imagine what they could do if they caught naughty audience members taking mid-show snaps on their futuristic iPhone 10s? Hello theatre law enforcement! We bet the Theatre Charter would be all over this, perhaps they will even fund the 'bots'? Let's just hope they don't get any early Robocop prototype ideas. Yikes.
Whaaat? How could there possibly be any downsides to futuristic theatres with 4D show experiences, surround sound massage chairs, interval drinks delivered by drones and, uh, ROBOT ushers?! Oh but wait, doesn't all of this sound kind of expensive? Premium seats to The Book of Mormon are already over £200, imagine how much they would cost if they came complete with virtual reality headsets, a back massage and a flying wine? Hmm. Best to have a bit of diversity I suppose. It's nice to know a £25 day seat is still an option and that the Palace Theatre balcony is still available for a tenner for the thrill seekers among us.
Also, what about the show itself, do you think all of the robots and the surround sound might distract from, y'know, the theatre? As Guardian critic Lyn Gardner once pondered, a theatre seat is only as good as the show you are watching. Isn't it better to be a tad uncomfortable and focused on what you are watching than too relaxed and snoozey? Isn't it better to be present in this beautiful and timeless action, this real life event that is theatre, than otherwise engaged adjusting our foot rests?
How far should theatre adapt itself in the future? We'll let you decide. In the meantime, why not check out SeatPlan.com to find out where is a good place to sit when seeing a show and help us grow our community and knowledge base by adding your own seat review from a show you have seen. You can even earn theatre vouchers for your reviews. Plus we totally promise you will be the first to know when flying interval ice creams become a thing…