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`Proms' aim to draw young to theatre Theatre `proms' to draw new audien ces cein affluent

by David Lister, Arts Correspondent

West End impresarios are planning to change the feel of a night out at the theatre with themed evenings and even a "proms" season.

Already, Stoll Moss, which owns several of London's best-known theatres, has introduced VIP nights where patrons are wined and dined and escorted to their seats by butlers.

Now the Society of London Theatre has persuaded business sponsors to put on themed evenings. The first will be at a performance of The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie on Burns Night, 25 January, when theatregoers will be able to sample whiskies from the sponsor, Seagrams.

The Society of London Theatre has drawn up a two-pronged initiative to win both affluent business people and less affluent young people.

Susan Whiddington, development officer for the society, said yesterday: "We're really looking to make a West End theatre more fun. The VIP nights are extremely successful. You get the red-carpet treatment, and we're trying to say theatre is a place to entertain guests. Business people do that at tennis matches or on the golf course, so why not at the theatre?

"We have also been losing a younger audience and we want to win them back with inexpensive nights out," she said.

"The first West End proms in 1996 will involve 25 productions and have cheap seats for young people. We will also be going into schools to talk to students, the first time commercial theatre has done this."

While West End theatre had a good year in 1994 with 208 new productions (15 more than the previous year), and total audience figures are expected to match the 1993 record of 11.5m, there has been a decline in young audiences.

The numbers of 16- to 24-year-olds going to the theatre has declined from 34 per cent in 1986 to 22 per cent, according to the latest figures.