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

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

Nursery Nurse - Melton Mowbray

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education are current...

PE Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary PE Teacher (maternity cover) f...

English Intervention Teacher

£23000 - £33000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: English Intervention Teac...

Teacher of Citizenship and RE

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leeds: Teacher of Citizenship and REMaternity L...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Ed Miliband on low pay; Alan Johnson on Betjeman; Tom Freeman on editing

John Rentoul
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments