The West End ways aren't always the best

Share
Related Topics

Something rather remarkable is happening down in Stratford, one of London's most ethnically mixed and socially deprived areas. A new musical,
The Big Life, about the story of the first West Indian immigrants to Britain has sold out its entire run at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East.

Something rather remarkable is happening down in Stratford, one of London's most ethnically mixed and socially deprived areas. A new musical, The Big Life, about the story of the first West Indian immigrants to Britain has sold out its entire run at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East.

It's a fitting swansong for Philip Hedley, the artistic director at Stratford, who steps down this year after a quarter of a century at the helm. Hedley, a tireless campaigner for the arts, has done much to encourage a more diverse audience to discover theatre. But I know that even he was surprised when it was pointed out to him that if this musical transfers to the West End it will be the first show in the commercial sector - musical or straight play - to be about the black British experience. (It's also, incidentally, the first ska musical, but that's probably of less sociological significance.)

West End producers have never felt confident that they can bring in an Afro-Caribbean audience in the way that Andrew Lloyd Webber brought in a British Asian audience for Bombay Dreams.

But, as Hedley has shown, one way of bringing in an audience conspicuous by its absence in theatreland is to stage a show that speaks to the cultural experience of a specific community, or at least the experience of their parents and grandparents. This, certainly, is Hedley's view. I am a little more hesitant as I fear there is a risk of becoming almost patronising in thinking that certain communities (an iffy concept in itself) will be attracted to the theatre only if the play is about them or their parents.

But equally I can see that something new must be tried to change the complexion of Britain's diminishing audience for theatre. Putting on in the West End would be a risk worth taking. And it would pay, too, to study the unconventional marketing methods of the team in Stratford East. Hedley's staff do not sell their shows only in the clubs; they get on the phone to past attenders and chat to them, ask them to spread the word among their friends and try to get from them names of people who might be interested in seeing the show.

It's not everyone's cup of tea. Personally, I'm not sure I'd see any difference in nuisance value between a box-office clerk and a double-glazing salesman when it comes to cold calling.

But as the sold-out notices show, in the East End of London the unconventional choice of show and unconventional method of selling tickets are working. In the West End the conventional methods, with this audience at least, are failing.

No one's laughing in Ealing now

That classic Ealing comedy The Ladykillers is, of course, inimitable. But that is a word alien to Hollywood, which has imitated it with a remake. The film, which stars Tom Hanks in the Alec Guinness role, is showing at the Cannes film festival next week. It has already opened in America to extremely poor reviews, which is some sort of blessing.

Why remake a classic? It is always more likely to offend and depress than succeed. It's particularly surprising that those genuinely original film-makers, the Coen Brothers, chose to do the film. Almost as criminal as tampering with The Ladykillers is remaking Alfie. But the Michael Caine movie has just been remade with Jude Law, somewhat implausibly, playing the cockney Don Juan. The argument given by some directors is that teenagers won't watch films in black and white, so it is worth remaking them in colour. But both Alfie and The Ladykillers were in colour to start with. It's much better to come up with new ideas and leave the classics alone. Next they'll be remaking The Iliad.

¿ Alan Bennett's new play, The History Boys, opens at the National Theatre next Tuesday. It is one of the most keenly anticipated cultural events of the year. Yet for years Bennett compared himself unfavourably with his three Beyond the Fringe colleagues. He tells one story of a moment which must have added to his insecurity. In a reception at Downing Street in the 1960s, the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson asked him what he did. He had been in Beyond the Fringe, he replied. Wilson said he had loved the show but didn't recall Bennett in it. "I assure you I was," pleaded Bennett. "No, I don't remember you," said Wilson with finality. Bennett says that he knew at that moment how Trotsky felt when he was written out of history.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner - Night Shift

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A leading Leicestershire based chilled food ma...

Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant - ACCA, ACA or ACMA - Construction Sector

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant (ACCA, ...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - PR and Broadcast - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has an exciting op...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor - Shifts

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This European market leader for security...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd champion the young and hold a cabinet meeting on top of Ben Nevis

Bear Grylls
 

i Editor's Letter: The five reasons why I vote

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot