“I think with the Olympics there will be people here who think ‘God, we’re actually in London, we can go and see London theatre’, which is why most people come to London in the first place,” So said Noises Off star Janie Dee when she spoke to Official London Theatre at the recent Olivier Awards Nominees’ lunch.
Her optimistic attitude reflects the feelings of most of the stars we spoke to that celebratory day, yet behind the West End scenes there has long been concern about exactly what impact the world’s greatest sporting event might have on London theatre this summer. The problem the West End and the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) faced was that no-one knew; few Games cities, if any, have a wealth of theatrical entertainment and vivid nightlife on offer comparable to London. There was little relevant research on which to base accurate predictions.
Julian Bird, the Chief Executive of SOLT, the organisation that represents the London theatre industry, began thinking about the issues the Olympics might raise when he was appointed to the role back in 2010. It was, he says, “clear it was going to be the big issue for 2012”.
The two key issues to be tackled, he says, were the different mix of tourists expected in London this Olympic summer and concerns about transport during the Games. SOLT has been working tirelessly on these issues over the past two years.
“We knew transport was going to be a big issue,” he explains, “hence the work with Transport for London in trying to put the message across that travelling into and around is actually going to be fine and easy.” Transport for London (TfL) have been very open when talking about possible congestion, but the bottleneck areas are not key stations for theatre trips. SOLT has even combined with TfL to create a guide to travelling to the theatre during the Olympic period to ensure theatregoers have the easiest trip they can.
With regard to the mix of people in London this summer, the key has been to ensure that both regular theatregoers and London newcomers have all the relevant information at their fingertips. This very website, Official London Theatre, has been revamped and relaunched along with its sister publication, the printed Official London Theatre guide, which will be distributed more widely than ever during the Olympic period and include tips for everyone wanting to find out more about what they can see at the theatre.
The key to almost everything SOLT has already achieved and continues to achieve in preparation for the Olympics is partnerships. Most obviously, SOLT has been working alongside LOCOG on initiatives including new ticketing promotion Get Into London Theatre Summer 2012, which is offering tickets for a host of top London shows at £10, £20, £30 and £40, and West End Theatre Welcomes The World, which brought 100 West End cast members to Trafalgar Square to celebrate 100 days until the Olympics in front of the world’s media.
The casts will return to Trafalgar Square on 23 and 24 June for annual open air theatre extravaganza West End LIVE. This year, however, the free festival will lead the opening weekend of the Cultural Olympiad.
“The recognition [from the Olympic organisers] that London theatre is a hugely important part of what makes London London is great for us,” Bird comments. “I think it’s important for London as a city. In all the research that is done – not by us, but by independent research firms – theatre comes out very very high in terms of what attracts people to London.”
“We have to grab this with both hands,” he continues. “I think London theatre’s at a great point at the moment; the range of productions and what’s on this summer. The opportunity to promote that around the world, it’s a great opportunity.”
With the eyes of the world firmly fixed on London, big businesses eager to entertain their clients and more press than you can shake a laminated pass at due in the capital, it is indeed the moment to showcase what London theatre has to offer. So, in addition to focussing on the theatregoers’ needs, SOLT has also been working on highlighting corporate entertainment packages and collaborating with Olympic press centres to ensure journalists have everything they need to spread the word about the West End. Many of the world’s press have already been treated to the high quality shows available in London, as have the volunteers who will be the voice of the Olympics on the street this summer.
Those same streets will also feature more TKTS ticket booths than ever before, while the iconic original booth in Leicester Square will continue to serve customers in the newly reconstructed London landmark.
“You haven’t seen London unless you’ve experienced theatre in London, there’s something for everybody,” is Bird’s clear message to the Olympic tourists, while to regular theatregoers he explains that “trains are going to run later, tubes are going to run later, there’s going to be no road works in London. London’s going to be a great place to be this summer, particularly in those periods before and after the Olympics.”
“I think for everyone it’s going to be a very different summer to the ones we normally have,” he concludes. “Who couldn’t be excited about that?”