Lifestyle

Is Travel The Lifeline Of London’s West End Theatre?

After the lull of the past two years, London is back on the map when it comes to tourism. In some ways, it feels like a city on the cusp of entering a new cultural renaissance. Tourists are arriving, hotels are filling up, the creative industries are inspired anew and London’s West End theatre district – one of the main pulls for a visit to the capital – is buzzing again.

Since the theatres went ‘dark’ during the pandemic – the first time this has happened since the start of the Second World War – there’s been a growing appetite for escapism and jollity in the form of theatre and musicals. There’s hope that the numbers of visitors to the city, and to theatre in particular, are expected to soon peak those taken in 2019.

During this, the last year that significant numbers were recorded, international travellers, aged between 25 and 44 years old, were shown to have the highest number of visits to London. Overall, tourists aged 25-34 and 35-44 accounted for 4.5 million and 4.4 million visits by overseas residents, respectively (source: Office of National Statistics). Meanwhile, information from VisitBritain (a non-departmental Public Body funded by the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport) and the Government’s International Passenger Survey shows that nearly half of overseas visitors to West End theatres are from America, with other English-speaking nations, such as Canada and Australia, also contributing significant numbers.

A spokesperson for the Phoenix Theatre, home to the musical, Come From Away, says: “It has previously been recorded by VisitBritain that 24% of all foreign visitors to London will attend a West End theatre show. As a result, not only does theatre generate revenue on its own, but it also brings tourism, which in turn has its own advantages to our economy.”

Whether you opt for the classic melodrama of Les Misérables or the thought-provoking Dear Evan Hanson, the West End, long synonymous with an eclectic choice of dramatic and musical theatre, offers something for all ages and all tastes. Since the late 19th century, the area, which encompasses parts of Soho, Covent Garden, the Strand and Shaftesbury Avenue, has become the stomping ground for lovers of the stage.

Back in 1898, the curtains lifted on what was London’s very first American musical – The Belle of New York – but the history of musical theatre stretches back to Gilbert and Sullivan’s music hall comedies. In fact, the heritage of the West End theatre scene stretches back even further – some 350 years. After the puritan ban was lifted on theatre in 1660 (it had lasted an incredible 17 years), the London theatre scene started to thrive, with many hundreds of plays and musicals coming and going – some staying longer than others. These days, the oldest running musical remains The Mousetrap, which has attracted audiences at St Martin’s Theatre since 1974.

Interestingly, one of the most popular contemporary shows for visitors is Come From Away, at the Phoenix Theatre. It’s the true story of what happened in the wake of 9/11 when 7,000 air passengers from all over the world were grounded in the small town of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada. The heart-warming tale follows the Newfoundland community who invited these ‘come from aways’ into their lives. As well as telling this remarkable story, the play also gives a nod to the Irish heritage of Newfoundland, with a folk and Gaelic-influenced musical score.

Ironically, perhaps, given that much of the audience may also be ‘come from aways’ themselves, Come From Away, the production, celebrates the theme of travel at its heart. What happens when you descend somewhere new, and unplanned? How welcome are you in a new environment? How willing are you to adapt to a new culture? What happens when things don’t go to plan and you have no control over your situation. All these questions are crucial to the musical’s plot and raison d’etre, but are also real considerations when travelling the world.

In the musical, the lyrics to one of the most popular songs seems to sum up the sentiment of what happens when we experience the very best of travel: “Somewhere, in the middle of nowhere. In the middle of who knows where… You found your heart, but left a part of you behind…

Jonathan Mountford from ‘Come From Away’s marketing agency gives his conclusion on the relationship between travel and musical theatre: “Come From Away reminds us of the importance of kindness, hope and grace – especially as we emerge from a global pandemic. The core theme of the show is about strangers coming together and this resonates well with many of the social benefits associated with the tourism and hospitality industry – for example, the economic effects of that industry can be the strengthening of communities and the preservation of heritage.”

https://www.forbes.com/sites/angelinavillaclarke/2022/09/24/is-travel-the-lifeline-of-londons-west-end-theatre/

Comment here