West End theatres plan to open on Sundays

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The Independent Online
THE WEST End of London is preparing to copy Broadway and open theatres on Sundays to catch family audiences and tourists.

Negotiations have begun between the Society of London Theatre (Solt), which represents the capital's commercial theatres, and backstage unions on pay rates for Sunday working. If they are successful, shows would open on Sundays, probably for a late matinee, and close on Monday nights when audiences are small.

The theatre managements believe that Sunday opening would attract more young people, and most particularly the family audience. The experience of the few that have tried it also shows that tourists are keen to come on Sundays. At present, three West End shows - ART at Wyndham's Theatre, Buddy at the Strand and the Reduced Shakespeare Company at the Criterion - play on Sundays.

Dafydd Rogers, associate producer of ART, said: "We get a lot of tourist trade, a lot of door trade on Sundays. We are also finding that a lot of people are coming to London from Europe through the Channel Tunnel for the weekend. They like to see a musical on Saturday night and a play on Sunday. Putting ART on at 5pm, people can have lunch beforehand or dinner afterwards. It seems to work very well. And our Sunday takings are as high as any other day."

ART's popularity on Sundays has been helped by the fact that it is only 90 minutes long and tourists have time to explore other attractions in London.

Theatre managements have been frustrated at not being able to copy the success of New York on Sundays. Jamie Wells, of E&B Productions, whose recent West End shows include Annie and Kat and the Kings, said: "It's crazy. We're in the entertainment business and we're not entertaining on one of the two weekend days."

A recent survey by Mori found that one-third of theatregoers said Sunday performances would make them visit more often, with younger people most likely to increase visits. London's theatres have had difficulty in attracting young men in particular - the survey found that women outnumber men in audiences by seven to three in the under-25 age group.

On Broadway, most of the hit shows have Sunday matinees, while some - including the musicals The Lion King, Rent and Chicago, have Sunday evening performances as well.

Solt has proposed a six-month trial of Sunday opening. Talks on pay rates are continuing. But based on those already agreed, the deal with the backstage union, Bectu, would allow Sunday working on a voluntary basis but at double normal pay. Musicians who are now paid a minimum of pounds 512 per week for eight performances instead receive pay for 10 performances, whether they actually play at 10 or not.

In Buddy, the tribute to the singer, staff and actors receive between double and triple the normal pay for Sunday working. Mr Wells, the show's production manager, said: "The extra costs just about equate to the extra box office."

The subsidised sector is watching and waiting. A spokeswoman for the National Theatre said: "We would never say never, but we have no plans to do so in the immediate future."

The Theatrical Management Association, which deals with 300 regional theatres and arts venues, said that there were no regular Sunday openings outside London and no plans to change that.