What happened to British writing talent?
We’ve written before about how much we enjoy a musical. And we love getting to see new musicals. But we have noticed a lack of new musicals coming out of the UK over the last few years.
The new shows are mostly Broadway transfers (Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen, Waitress, Hamilton) with a few revivals (Company, Mary Poppins). Even the new shows that are produced tend to be Jukebox musicals, such as & Juliet, which means UK composers don’t get the chance to shine and we miss out on so many potential hits. While we have loved many of these shows we want to see more writers given an opportunity to shine.
In the 80’s the West End dominated new musical writing, starting with Cats and followed up with Les Miserablés and Phantom of the Opera. There was hit after hit and where would we be now if we hadn’t taken a risk on these shows? Cats is credited with reviving Broadway. But it is Broadway now that is taking the risk on new shows and allowing new writing to shine which we are immensely grateful for. So why is the UK shying away from new writing?
The West end feels like it has got into a comfort zone of proven bankable hits. Look how quickly Dear Evan Hansen and Frozen sold out once tickets were on sale. There was a frenzy for tickets and that would no doubt be enticing. But why is it only those shows? Cameron Mackintosh used to be at the forefront of new shows. Cats was a huge risk that paid off. Les Miserablés was an even bigger risk with an even bigger pay off. As a lover of musical theatre I would expect him to nurture new talent and provide new writers and composers the opportunities to shine. There is no shortage to choose from. We have reviewed on here Mascherato and No Limits for example, a small sample of those writings available, which would benefit from Cameron Mackintosh helping them to produce these on a large scale. Instead he is already planning the next revival of Oliver!
We’ve shown that when new shows are produced people are excited for them. Everybody’s Talking about Jamie and Six are now firm fan favourites. Let’s not wait around for a surprise hit like Six, but actively seek out new talent who can develop the new shows we’ll love and bring in new audiences. Even Six didn’t get a huge amount of support, it broke out after a short run at The Arts Theatre where it’s fan base built quickly.
Having spoken to writers they talk about hard it is to get a response from producers. Do they even listen to the music? Why aren’t people interested in taking new ideas and helping them develop into full shows? It seems you are only able to get your musical produced now if you have the money to do it yourself. The success shouldn’t be reserved to those who are already rich. There is so much possibility that’s currently being missed.
We’ve seen the same problem with plays. One place we have been to a lot where we have seen a mix of new writing talent and lesser known plays revived is the Trafalgar Studios. We particularly like the experimentation that went on with the smaller 100 seat studio with plays such as “Wolf Boy” and “Confessions of Gordon Brown”, an Edinburgh Fringe transfer, that would have struggled to find a space on the West End otherwise. Now we discover they are renovating into just one larger space. Given the constraints this gives we worried this would move them away from bringing smaller productions to a wider audience. This fear was immediately shown to be well founded as their first production in the new venue is due to be The Jersey Boys – a flashy musical already shown to be bankable but offering nothing new.
We hope that The Other Palace, which has been a lone west end light in promoting different theatre recently, continues to bring us more variety and new ideas and visions. Without them it’s unlikely we would have had productions such as Heathers, which was immediately taken into many people’s hearts.
A new musical doesn’t start with the rights to a film though. It should start with a new idea. And we are worried the pandemic with exacerbate this situation. So it becomes the audiences responsibility to say what we want.
If we love musical theatre and want it to thrive we need to support new writing and help where we can – take a chance on something you’ve not heard of, use social media to support them and encourage others to do the same. Take friends to see it. The shows we love now were all new once. Let’s support the smaller venues and go and see the new musicals they put on. Head to fringe theatres and you may find the next Hamilton and you can say you were there before it was famous. Let’s make sure we get the new theatre we deserve and aren’t left with endless revivals and transfers.