Nica Burns: Noises Off

Put your money where your mouth is, Jonathan – then call me a coward

Share
Related Topics

Like most West End producers, I'm a romantic at heart. Believe me, there's nothing we would love more than to put on ensemble productions without a big name which would pack out to rave reviews – but history shows us that the audiences don't come. I know this from bitter experience. When I fell in love with Matthew Byam Shaw's touring production of See How They Run in 2006, I got my cheque book out. We put the show on in the smallest theatre I own, the Duchess. The cast was fantastically talented, the production had made me weep with laughter, and the reviews were to die for – and no one came. It cost me and my partner Max Weitzenhoffer £300,000, because we couldn't bear to close the show. Losing money when it takes a lot of work to earn it is always hard, but the heartbreak of a show that you really believe in failing is devastating.

So I know how Sir Jonathan Miller felt when he spoke last week about his frustration at the West End's failure to snap up his lauded Hamlet, which stars the unknown Jamie Ballard. In contrast, two Hamlets which will be seen in London this year – the RSC's and the Donmar's – will star "the Doctor" David Tennant and Jude Law. Both these actors have excellent theatre credentials, and are brilliant on stage; but to Miller, they are nothing but big names, and West End producers are celebrity lovers and cowards.

Cowards? Bravery is part of the job description: this is one of the toughest jobs in the world. It requires artistic instinct, business acumen and a very strong stomach. You're the last person to get paid, the first person to get blamed, and ultimately the poor soul on whose shoulders the responsibility will fall. A small play in the West End now costs over £400,000 to put on, and a musical millions; meanwhile, the weekly running costs just keep rising, to anything up to £70,000 for just a small-cast play.

The fact is, audiences want to see actors they know and admire. An evening in the theatre is an expensive night out, and it's a risk to see something unknown and unproven. Besides, the idea that famous actors aren't talented is insulting. You cannot sustain a career on good looks alone. Christian Slater brought a new audience to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and he was brilliant; Kathleen Turner, in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, was, according to Albee himself, perfect; David Schwimmer gave edgy playwright Neil LaBute his first commercial success in a critically acclaimed Some

Girls. There have always been famous actors on the West End stage, from Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn to Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. Most actors start in the theatre, and they don't lose those instincts. It's just a muscle that they need to warm up again.

Producers aren't faceless suits. We do it because we love theatre, and if we were obsessed with making money we would be doing something else. Artistic considerations are extremely important to us. I can't imagine casting an actor I didn't believe could play the part. I'm working on a show which I've just postponed because I can't find the right four people for it at the same time. We're all desperate to get it right.

Miller is a brilliant, polemical director, but he hasn't understood that it's the public who call the tune. I don't see him putting his hand up to take the risk. So let me reiterate the offer I've made: £300,000 will bring the production to the West End, and I will gladly rent him a theatre. Come on, Jonathan: put your money where your mouth is.

Nica Burns is chief executive and co-owner of Nimax theatres

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

To have your say on this or any other issue visit www.independent.co.uk/IoSblogs

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
 

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station  

General Election 2015: Despite all the seeming cynicism, our political system works

Ian Birrell
'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
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
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
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk