Natalie Haynes: Bravo to the history boys – and girls

Share
Related Topics

Getting emails from random strangers is one of the side-effects of my job: sometimes it's a perk (they like my book, or column, or whatever), other times it's a death threat (a consequence of saying something mildly contentious on Question Time), but recently, a whole new category of unsolicited correspondence opened up.

I had mail from a woman in Canada who is so desperate to see David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing that she is mailing any reviewers she can find online, to ask if they will try and get a DVD version of it released, maybe for charity. I can't, obviously. I don't even own a video camera. But I think the fact that someone wants to see a play so much that they are willing to try this strategy might begin to explain why London's West End is having such a boom.

Last week, Theatreland reported that box office takings between April and June were up 2 per cent on the same period last year. This came as a surprise to the industry, which saw a 6 per cent slump in the first quarter. They're now back on track to take over £500m this year. And perhaps more surprising still is where the money is coming from: though the juggernaut film musicals remain at the heart of the West End (Ghost, Dirty Dancing, Priscilla et al), the real increase is coming from plays, whose audience numbers are up by 13 per cent.

Star vehicles, like Kevin Spacey's Richard III at the Old Vic, or indeed Tennant and Tate in Much Ado, are responsible for the surge in audiences. So I hope this news might hush (to a stage whisper, at least) the inverted snobs who have spent years muttering that the West End isn't the same now they let people off the telly have a go on it. Kevin Spacey is a mesmerising Richard – I doubt I will ever see a better one – and the fact that he is in Horrible Bosses at your local multiplex has no impact on that whatsoever. If you don't like Gavin and Stacey, that's fair enough: me neither. But James Corden gives a tremendously warm and funny performance in One Man, Two Guvnors at the National, and the fact that he is better known for being on TV than for his earlier appearance at the National in The History Boys doesn't detract from it at all.

In fact, the reverse is true. These shows sell well and generate word of mouth in advance precisely because they have star power. Good luck buying a ticket for the upcoming Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse: it might be a sell-out because London has discovered the beauty of Eugene O'Neill, but I think it's more likely to be the fact that Jude Law is the lead. Most producers need to know they're backing something that at least has a chance of doing well, and adding a film star to the mix improves their chances considerably.

The smaller theatres punch way above their financial weight: the Donmar's Frost/Nixon, starring Frank Langella, transferred to a bigger venue, then Broadway, then to an Oscar-nominated film. No mean feat for a theatre that seats 250 people. And the Menier Chocolate Factory revival of A Little Night Music ended up on Broadway with Catherine Zeta-Jones in a Tony Award-winning performance.

And while the casting of Jonny Lee Miller in Frankenstein might mean that an equally good but lesser known actor misses out on the part, that actor can still get cast in the play, and make a huge impact: Tom Edden may not have the lead in One Man, Two Guvnors, but he comes very close to stealing the show. All actors will tell you they'd rather be working than not working, and if that means playing a part that isn't the lead, they'll live with it. Especially if it means being in a sell-out West End hit, rather than playing to six people in a cupboard.

www.nataliehaynes.com

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
Nai or Oxi: whether Greece says Yes or No today its citizens will continue to struggle  

Greece crisis: Referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its lack of genuine legitimacy

Rupert Cornwell
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test