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Is theatre in danger of becoming too exclusive?

 Thursday, 3rd August, 2017

Theatre critic and member, Mark Shenton, ponders on whether increased demand for live theatre is a help or hinderance for the industry.

Theatre necessarily reaches a smaller audience than, say, a movie or a TV show. While films and TV can be screened on literally limitless screens (and devices) around the globe, theatre typically only reaches the audience who are lucky enough to secure seats for a performance that night. Even when a show goes global, like Mamma Mia! or The Phantom of the Opera, with multiple productions playing simultaneously in different cities across the world, it is still limited by the number of tickets actually available to be sold.

This has changed a bit in the last few years thanks to initiatives like NT Live, which turns theatre shows into movies with live performances being screened contemporaneously from theatres in London (and sometimes beyond) to cinemas around the country and the world. But the full, live and living experience can still only be had inside the theatre itself.

That unrepeatable experience has value, of course, but it also comes at an increasingly high price: since Bette Midler is only starring in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway until next January, for instance, demand for tickets is far outstripping supply -- hence tickets going for up to $675 each through the box office. (They are even higher on re-sale markets).

But the Shubert Theatre, where Hello Dolly! is playing, at least has 1,460 seats at every performance to sell. The announcement in London that Tom Hiddleston will play Hamlet under the direction of Kenneth Branagh at RADA's Vanburgh Theatre in September may not come with quite as high a price tag -- top price tickets are £95 -- but tickets for the three week run are going to be extremely sought after: audience capacity is 183. No wonder they are going to be allocated by ballot only.

And on this occasion, even theatre critics are being kept out. We are being invited to apply for our chance to buy a ticket along with the public. So the public, who may not get the chance to see it, won't get the chance to read about it either.

It seems that theatre is getting so exclusive that even theatre critics are no longer welcome.

* MARK SHENTON is associate editor of The Stage, where he writes a daily online column and regular interview features. He also reviews theatre for londontheatre.co.uk

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