Angels need more than a pretty face

The angels had flown last week, leaving a play called The Guardsman sinking in the west

Share

"Almost without a trace," said Michael Pennington, an old pro playing the male lead in this reputable comedy by Hungarian Ferenc Molnar. The announcement of its impending closure, only two days after the opening night, might have been a record. Word of mouth in the West End is about money, not acting: the losses are said to amount to £250,000.

"Almost without a trace," said Michael Pennington, an old pro playing the male lead in this reputable comedy by Hungarian Ferenc Molnar. The announcement of its impending closure, only two days after the opening night, might have been a record. Word of mouth in the West End is about money, not acting: the losses are said to amount to £250,000.

This is a meagre sum compared with Napoleon, which opened last week to mixed reviews. The producers had spent £4.5m just getting it on stage. The following morning, most reviews were awful. "Nothing redeems it," wrote Alastair Macauley in the Financial Times. Now the backers have to decide whether to cut their losses or keep the show running, in the hope that clever marketing will draw an audience.

Theatre people have now started muttering about this being the end of the West End. The dramatic pessimists argue that the only plays with any chance of making money star Hollywood actresses willing to take their kit off. This is nonsense - Scacchi's presence didn't help The Guardsman.

What also worries theatre managers is the shortage of new products. New musicals from Cameron MacIntosh ( The Witches of Eastwick) and Andrew Lloyd Webber ( The Beautiful Game) do not feel like the successors to Miss Saigon. One theatre manager judges the quality of a show by asking himself whether he would buy a ticket for it: "At the moment my money's safe," he says.

But there is no deep financial crisis. The pool of punters known as angels, who put up the money to back plays, is not drying up. But they can't afford to ignore the risks. Backing a hit is nothing like winning the lottery, although angels who got on to Andrew Lloyd Webber's list early in his career have made pots of money. I remember a friend of mine worrying about the prudence of a £1,000 punt on Cats. Twenty years later, she has been collecting an annual dividend larger than her original investment. Most winning bets are more modest. A £1,000 investment in a play like Michael Frayn's Copenhagen will already have paid out £1,500 on top of an original £1,000 stake.

Most angels are able to judge within 10 minutes of a curtain's rise whether a production is a winner. They tend to choose a producer and stick with them, and experienced producers like Michael Codron, Michael Redington and Thelma Holt work with a core of loyal investors.

The West End has always drawn on a narrow investment base - too narrow for a bright, young producer called Sally Greene. She is raising money, not merely to put on a show, but to finance a company that will revive the Old Vic. She is raising £2m by selling shares in the company, and has the assistance of fine actors like Kevin Spacey and Judi Dench to persuade people that this is a worthwhile investment. She has already found 300 share buyers, including Mick Jagger and a Rothschild.

The producers of The Guardsman have been taught an old lesson. A film credit and a pretty face will not necessarily provide the spark that lights up a West End show. But a costly lesson is not the end of the world. It's show business.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Thousands of Russian troops marched on Red Square in the annual Victory Day parade in a proud display of the nation's military might amid escalating tensions over Ukraine  

Once again, the West fails to understand Russia

Mary Dejevsky
Jamie Oliver joins children as they celebrate Food Revolution Day 2014 by cooking bread, making smoothies and creating salads at St Paul's Whitechapel CE Primary School in London  

Teaching children to cook at school is a recipe for self-respect

Grace Dent
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before