No job is forever (unlike herpes); but when you lose your job, you hope to hear it from your boss, not from reading the papers or Twitter. But that is precisely what happened to the company of Love Never Dies, when Baz Bamigboye recently confirmed in the Daily Mail what had been the subject of feverish speculation for a few weeks beforehand, that the show was closing and was being replaced at the Adelphi Theatre by a West End transfer for the National’s One Man, Two Guvnors. The company duly took to Twitter to express their dismay.
By contrast, the company of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, also co-produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Company, have been given ample notice, though not yet a specific date, that the show is likely to leave the Palace Theatre by the end of the year. And once again, members of the company promptly revealed as much on Twitter in turn.
In both cases, press statements followed after the fact confirming the news. But if one media outlet was ahead of the game with Love Never Dies, the rest were left trailing behind Twitter with Priscilla. The same thing happened when The Umbrellas of Cherbourg posted its closing notices, and then Lend Me a Tenor the Musical was revealed to be taking its place at the Gielgud: again, it was Twitter first, a press release later.
And yesterday a press release finally arrived for the West End import of the recent Broadway production of Driving Miss Daisy, even though there had already been press ads in the papers on Sunday for it and on Classic FM. It seems perverse that a press release should formalise something that was already on sale; it’s hardly news worth reporting at that point.
Likewise when the current productions of The Flying Karamazov Brothers and Being Shakespeare were first mentioned for the Vaudeville and Trafalgar Studios respectively, I chased the PRs for both and it took five business days and more than a calendar week for those press releases to respectively finally arrive. Perhaps I am insufficiently schooled in the dark art of press releases, but in neither was there anything mind-blowingly sensitive that necessitated such a delay. Surely the job of the press release is to get the news out there, not delay it. Or perhaps I am missing something….
On the one hand, London theatre can be a leaky sieve when it comes to information. On the other, some producers are notoriously secretive — not least, unlike their Broadway counterparts, when it comes to box office business, which is not published publicly as it is in the US. But it does mean that journalists rely on hearsay rather than fact when it comes to reporting such matters, too.
One such instance occurred in US trade bible Variety in a report on the restructuring of Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, where it was stated, “Although London box office figures are never published, insiders indicate that Lloyd Webber’s current production of The Wizard of Oz, cast via a primetime-TV reality show, is underperforming at the 2,255-seat London Palladium.”
Hiding behind the phrase “insiders”, of course, gives it spurious authority; that could frankly be anyone from the stage doorman to the upper circle usher. And what exactly does “underperforming” mean anyway? Any show, after all, that is not at 100% capacity could be said to be “underperforming”. If there are seats to be had, it’s not selling as well as it could. So I checked myself with co-producer Bill Kenwright, who told me, “Since we opened, it has been difficult, if not impossible, to get tickets for any of the three weekend performances that always play to capacity; we’ve averaged just below 85 percent in a two-and-a-quarter-thousand-seat theatre, and returned a third of the capitalization just 12 weeks after the opening night. It’s a hit!”