Stage is set for cheaper West End productions

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The Independent Online
The first play to be put on under a radical new agreement to cut the cost of West End stage productions - including actors' salaries and theatre rents - will open next month.

Salad Days is being staged at the Vaudeville Theatre, one of nine London theatres with less than 700 seats which have signed up to the scheme in a bid to compete with blockbuster musicals such as Miss Saigon and Cats.

The move is also aimed at encouraging "angels" - theatre investors - to put money into productions which until now have cost at least pounds 200,000, and up to pounds 2m or more at the top end.

The Small London Theatres Agreement, brainchild of the Society of London Theatres, cuts costs across the board. Actors who push up costs with salaries of pounds 3,000 or more a week will have their earnings capped at pounds 1,500 a week, with no share of box office royalties.

Equally, the theatres involved have pledged to halve the rents they charge to producers mounting shows in an attempt to create a replica of New York's off-Broadway in the West End.

The nine theatres involved are the Vaudeville, Ambassadors, Criterion, Duchess, Duke of York's, Fortune, Garrick, St Martin's and Whitehall.

Ticket prices will be capped at pounds 20, with standby tickets on offer at pounds 12. Attempts will also be made to persuade ticket agencies to cut the commission of up to pounds 2.50 charged on ticket sales.

If everyone can agree to a cut of their slice of the cake, the idea is that a production has a better chance of getting on its feet and moving into profit, and that more productions are put on in the first place.

Edward Snape, the 30-year-old producer of Salad Days, said although the agreement was particularly aimed at helping stage new plays, in other ways the 1950s musical fitted the bill perfectly.

He has negotiated a royalty pool, which means that Ned Sherrin, the director, as well as the choreographer, designer and musical director, take a reduced share of the box office until the show moves into profit.

The owners of the Vaudeville's have agreed to accept half their usual rent and the lead actors, the musical duo Kit and the Widow, not to mention Mr Snape himself, are on reduced salaries. The show opens on 18 April.

"The idea of the agreement is to make London theatre more commercial, to encourage more theatre investors to come on board," Mr Snape said. "This means they have a better chance of making profit - at the moment I think it's one in eight for West End productions. Very often investors lose everything."

Rupert Rhymes, chief executive of the Society of London Theatres, said the scheme would benefit young producers, who often find it difficult to raise the pounds 200,000 needed to stage a new West End show.

"Everybody can cut back in order to make the project work, although it's still going to be the case that if a star wants something they're not going to be persuaded to take the minimum," he said.