I first saw this post title on someone else’s blog, and thought it was really catchy! (Unfortunately, I can’t find the post now; if this is your title, please post in the comments and I will credit you!) They wrote about what productions they wanted to see in the West End, which was really interesting, and got me thinking more generally: what do I want out of specifically a West End show? What am I wishing for if I go see a play or musical in a large, commercial theatre in the West End of London, usually for a not-insignificant amount of money? How is it different from what I want if I go see fringe theatre? Or am-dram? (Note: “am-dram” is often used derogatorily. Not so in this context: I enjoy and think there is a lot to be praised in amateur theatre. But that’s a whole blog post in itself.)
There are certain things I want from theatre, regardless of what I’m seeing or where I’m going. I always want to have some sort of emotional or intellectual reaction: I want to have been made to feel something or think about a difficult social question. (For more on this, see my post about my favourite ever productions, where I explain certain things about what makes me tick when I go see a production.) I also always want to see that artists (actors, directors, designers…) have created something interesting and exciting, whatever that may be in the context of the particular production. But I expect very different things from productions’ different theatre contexts. For me, a great West End production, beyond being emotionally/intellectually inspiring, also fulfils these criteria:
1. Great production value
It’s no secret that West End productions have higher budgets than a fringe production. If I go see a fringe production, I’m aware that the budgets can restrict the extent to which they can fulfill big ideas. When you have a West End budget, I want to experience awe inspiring set, costumes, lighting, sound worlds… It’s always nice when this happens in a fringe show, obviously, and it does, but it’s disappointing when you feel like something in the West End, which you’re likely to have paid upwards of £50 per ticket for, has been half-assed in the production department.
2. Immaculate choreography/blocking
This doesn’t always happen, because casts change, people take holiday, have small mind-blanks, you name it. Actors are human too. But on the whole, in the West End, casts are in roles for 6 months or year long contracts. I expect actors to know what they’re doing in most contexts, but there’s a level of polish that comes from doing eight shows a week for months and months that I expect more from the West End than fringe shows (or even large scale commercial touring shows, where, while the cast may be contracted for several months, they’re adjusting to new spaces every week). Particularly in West End musicals, with large chorus dance numbers, I expect that level of togetherness and flair that makes you sit back and think “wow”…
3. Not “star value”
This may be slightly unexpected, but I’m always a little wary of “star value”. There are some phenomenal actors who are also stars, but there are many stars who are put in roles beyond their capabilities, in order to be able to charge over-optimistically ticket prices. I saw Funny Girl at the Savoy last summer, and went on a Monday performance, when Sheridan Smith’s understudy – NAME – was scheduled to play the lead, Fanny Price, and honestly, I can’t imagine a better performance. She was outstanding, and a clear example of why you don’t need a star. (To be fair, Smith also got excellent reviews, and I’m sure she was very good.) There are moments when a “star” lead is worth the ticket inflation (Daniel Radcliffe in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying on Broadway in summer 2010 was one of the most hilarious performances I’ve ever attended, and he could do everything required of the role – sing, dance and make me laugh with perfect comic timing) but it is far from necessary in a good West End show. A good West End show should be able to stand without a star to hold it up.
Those are the three, in my opinion, key requirements of a good West End show, so to conclude, in the spirit of the original post, here are the three shows I would love to see on the West End, with the criteria above fulfilled.
– Hamilton. I have tickets to see this in February 2018, and I hope that it is worth the year of waiting (I bought the tickets when they went on sale in February 2017)…
– Camelot. I love the film of this musical, and would love to see a really good West End revival.
– Waitress. I’ve just discovered the soundtrack to this new musical which was on Broadway last year, and I’m very curious about the show. I’d love to be able to see a great production of it, to see what I think beyond “these songs are very catchy”.
That’s all for this week, thank you as always for reading! As you read this, I’ve now worked a whole two weeks for Metta Theatre, and I’m loving it. Follow Metta on Facebook and Twitter to hear a little about what I’m doing (I write a lot of our social media now) and I will update you more thoroughly about what I’m doing very soon!