Theatres offer a brighter welcome to visitors

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The Independent Online

West End impresarios are bedecking their theatres in bright lights in a drive to rid the area of undesirables and welcome back audiences disenchanted with the shabby state of the capital's entertainment district. Theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue have added extra illumination at front of house to deter potential criminals and more is planned.

West End impresarios are bedecking their theatres in bright lights in a drive to rid the area of undesirables and welcome back audiences disenchanted with the shabby state of the capital's entertainment district. Theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue have added extra illumination at front of house to deter potential criminals and more is planned.

The theatre managers claim they will be unable to turn the West End into an attractive place to visit without backing from local and central government, which have control over issues such as street lighting and cleaning.

Talks have started with Westminster and Camden councils to try to bolster the theatres' efforts to encourage more visitors, and Nick Raynsford, the minister for London, is also being lobbied.

Richard Pulford, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre, said: "They have gradually come to realise the enormous contribution theatre makes and that it is a vital asset for the capital. We have noticed a considerable deterioration in the central London environment in the past few years and these things are potentially discouraging. We do need to put them right."

Howard Panter, managing director and part-owner of the Ambassador Group, one of London's biggest theatre companies, said: "We need to do this in the same way as New York transformed the centre of Manhattan, because it's an important economic and social thing to do. It was impossible to walk through Times Square safely 10 years ago but you can now."

But he said co-operation was needed with all the authorities to agree a coherent plan. "This is an urgent issue in terms of making London the great place it certainly can and should be."

The threat of war with Iraq only made the issue more pressing, he added. Theatre attendances were hit badly by foot-and-mouth and the 11 September attacks in the United States. A war now would further deter American visitors who are an important part of the £1bn West End industry.

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