Writing about Noises Off last week got me thinking about the post-Covid theatre scene and what’s been going on for the last couple of years. I was a big theatre goer before the pandemic and it was one of the things I missed the most, so I was straight back in as soon as I could and I’ve been trying to see as much as I can, but there are definitely some changes – beyond the fact that I changed jobs during the pandemic and work shifts less now which has changed things a bit for me personally.
When the West End first started to reopen, it was mostly just the long runners but it is starting to perk up again now with new stuff coming in – even if it’s revivals or return engagements. I’ve revisited a few of my old favourites, but it’s been quite hard to get good ticket deals, because there weren’t as many shows going – which I’m hoping is because they’ve got lots of demand rather than the fact that the prices are so high now they can afford to not sell as many tickets. Because the prices have gone up, and my ticket budget hasn’t gone up by the same amount.
I saw Sylvia at the Old Vic the other week, which had a run as a work in progress there in 2018 but is now back as a full production – which I think shows you the effect on the time line of shows that the pandemic has had. New musicals often take a couple of years to make it to the West End (if they make it to the West End) because there is a process of workshopping and looking for backers that takes place as well as potentially trying it out out of town. And because everything has been closed, that hasn’t been going on at all. Hopefully we’ll start to get some properly new stuff soon – maybe some of the stuff that was workshopping when everything shut down in 2020 will make it’s way through. So far there have been plenty of plays (particularly plays with small casts) but not so many musicals. The good news is that transfer of the Tony winning Oklahoma revival started its West End transfer this week – after a Young Vic run last year. And it’s definitely encouraging that that Chichester Festival Theatre has announced a full programme for this year this week, including new plays, old plays and a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, which is one of his shows that I haven’t seen so I’m seriously hoping that it is good and gets a London transfer.
Outside the West End though it is still a little slow. I used to see a fair bit of cabaret and comedy in the off-West End scene, and that really hasn’t come back much yet. Whether it’s the fact that the margins are too small, or the venues have closed or even that there aren’t as many people around in London I don’t know, but it’s been a struggle to find stuff that I want to go to so far.
Regional theatre is running on a slower time table too. We used to see quite a bit at our local theatres, but most of what has been coming through so far has been touring productions of shows that we’ve already seen – either in the West end or on previous tours. Northampton’s Royal and Derngate used to be a reasonably big regional production house, but that hasn’t properly come back into gear yet, and the artistic director has announced that he’s leaving this spring, so that may also have put a crimp on things. Fingers crossed that the new artistic director brings as many good productions as the last few have and we’ll see some new shows in Northampton that eventually make their way into the West End or national tours the way they used to.
But there definitely seems to be light at the end of the tunnel at last – and if some more tourists come back to London, maybe we’ll be back to what used to be normal by the end of the summer.