West End theatre casts its vote for Sunday opening: David Lister reports on a move that could herald a new trend in London theatregoing

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The Independent Online
A WEST END play will have its opening night on a Sunday for the first time tomorrow, and continue to play on Sundays throughout its run. If successful, this is likely to start a trend that will bring London closer to New York, with regular Sunday openings.

Hitherto, it has always been the case that cinemas in the West End open on a Sunday. But only the occasional live show has chanced a Sunday matinee.

For theatregoers, Sunday nights offer the clear advantage of easier parking in an area notoriously difficult to find spaces, a more relaxed journey on less crowded roads, even easier availability of babysitters. Theatre managements are hopeful that by opening on Sundays and closing on Mondays - increasingly a quiet West End night - they will bring in larger audiences over the week.

Tomorrow's opening at the Ambassadors is Vita and Virginia, a two-hander about Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville West, starring Eileen Atkins, who also wrote the piece, and Penelope Wilton.

A cast of two made the Sunday opening decision easier for producer Robert Fox because costs are manageable. The costs, in extra pay for Sunday work, of putting on a musical, for example, would be very large.

Mr Fox will be spending an extra pounds 600 a week to open on Sundays, which he hopes to recover from higher audiences on Sundays than Mondays. During the previews, Sunday nights have had 10 per cent higher audiences than any other night.

Ironically, one of the biggest problems for Mr Fox has been the critics, not the unionised theatre staff. Some have refused to work on Sundays and have chosen to see a preview rather than review the first night. He said: 'Six critics out of the normal 15 are coming tomorrow. I know some of them are deeply underjoyed . . . but I am convinced Sundays are a good day for plays to open . . . it's going to be much easier for theatregoers.'

This was confirmed by Stuart Crouch, chairman of the British Incoming Tour Operators' Association. He said: 'It's something to be welcomed, and I hope it spreads . . . Americans expect theatres to be open on a Sunday.'

The opening was even welcomed by the Keep Sunday Special campaign, whose spokeswoman said that Sunday was a day for entertainment and relaxation and theatres should open provided that those who worked did so voluntarily and were paid extra.