David Babani: Noises Off

We're big on Broadway, but let's not forget to promote new British shows

Related Topics

The Tony award nominations for the best work in New York were announced on Wednesday, and it was a good moment for London theatre. Eight Brits were nominated for major acting prizes, and the Chocolate Factory's show, Sunday in the Park with George, picked up nine nominations of its own. To think that it started in our small theatre in Southwark makes me very proud.

But things aren't as perfect as they seem. The night before, the producer Sonia Friedman said that Broadway was outperforming the West End on almost every front. "Broadway has become far more fertile and adventurous than the West End," she said. "While the West End used to be about new work and the play, it's now about the musical."

I don't agree with all of that. The truth is that interesting and exciting work is being done in both places. There's extraordinary risk-taking going on on this side of the Atlantic, and a theatre-loving public that really wants to reward it. But the only way they can do that is through buying tickets. And at the moment they aren't, because they don't know enough about what we're doing. And this is where I agree with Sonia. Over the last few years, our industry's ability to promote itself has been badly eroded. We don't support our own industry anything like they do in New York.

To put a show on in the West End is incredibly expensive and risky, and has become more so over the years. Nowadays you can't even guarantee that your play will get reviewed. When our production of Dealer's Choice transferred to the West End, we followed the usual convention and booked a press night in the industry diary. Unfortunately for us, another show came along and stole it. Because it was a new production, the journalists were obliged to cover that, and we ended up with less than half the critics seeing our show – and because of that, our potential for success was severely compromised.

We have to avoid those kinds of clashes; we have to support each other as an industry. We should have rules and we should stick to them.

It's a similar story with our equivalent to the Tonys, the Oliviers. The Tonys make news all over the world, and winning one makes a huge difference at the box office. The ceremony is broadcast live on prime-time national network TV at eight in the evening – and every nominated musical gets a chance to perform. In contrast, the Evening Standard hasn't run a full list of Olivier winners for the past two years. They are not on TV. Last time I

checked my Sky box, there were 700 channels: does anyone seriously believe that there isn't one channel that would film our most prestigious awards? We have to do better. We can't just blame the media: it's us ourselves.

The consequences of our promotional failures could be severe. At the moment, even if all the critics agree something is brilliant, it's still not enough. Everyone has been shouting That Face from the rooftops, but it hasn't sold anything like it would have done five years ago – and that's terrifying.

I'm not saying theatre in the UK is in dire straits. Far from it. There are some upsides to tighter purse-strings: there is far less complacent producing going on in the West End and far fewer tired old warhorse productions.

So in a sense it's a brilliant wake-up call. If we carry on doing the same things, we could be in trouble. If we're able to take stock and keep reinventing ourselves, I think we have a great future. I just hope that we can speed up the reinvention process.

David Babani is artistic director of the Menier Chocolate Factory, which is running 'The Common Pursuit' now. www.menierchocolatefactory.com, 020 7907 7060

Do you have an issue to raise in Noises Off? Email us at: noisesoff@independent.co.uk

React Now

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

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
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
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam