David Babani: Noises Off

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

Share
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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the strange case of the errant royal pronoun

Guy Keleny
Flowers and candles are placed at the site where a refrigerated truck with decomposing bodies was found by an Austrian motorway  

EU migrant crisis: The 71 people found dead in a lorry should have reached sanctuary

Charlotte Mcdonald-Gibson
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future