Never Say Die

by Keith Clarke

Attendances down 10 per cent, box office revenue down 6 per cent. That’s the stark news from the Society of London Theatre, comparing the first quarter of this year with the same period in 2010. It is hardly surprising. Everyone has been talking about the financial storm coming our way, but so far it has been a bit of a phony war. Now it is getting a bit real. With gasoline prices at an all-time high, the cost of food essentials soaring, there is little doubt that people are feeling the pinch, and thinking twice before booking tickets for a show.

But show business has always thrived on the principle of unreasonable optimism. And when financial doldrums descend, people need entertaining all the more. One thing that changes in a recession is that people tend to make more last-minute bookings rather than planning ahead, which can be nerve racking for arts managers. But the never-say-die approach has seen us through dark days before, so let’s hope it works its magic this time round.

The West End certainly cannot be accused of not trying hard enough. Among its efforts to woo audiences is a live event in Trafalgar Square over two days next month. As the fountains splash and Lord Nelson looks down from his plinth, cast members from more than 20 shows will perform live, free of charge, to an expected crowd of half a million.


A new report on copyright law has stopped short of recommending that the UK should follow the US model  of “fair use,” allowing limited use of copyright material without the need for permission from the copyright holders. But any step in the right direction is to be welcomed. At present it is illegal to copy a CD to an iPod, even if the owner has bought the CD. That means that many millions of us walking the streets with iPods are technically criminals. But police numbers are being cut at the moment, so it seems unlikely that there will be a sudden rush of bobbies to round us all up.


It is brave of English National Opera to stage John Adams’s opera, The Death of Klinghoffer, even two decades after it was written. The murder of a disabled Jewish-American tourist by Palestinian terrorists was never going to offer the easiest subject matter, and certainly those 20 years have seen no lessening of Middle East tensions.

The piece was supposed to have first seen the light of day at the 1991 Glyndebourne Festival, the house having co-commissioned the work, along with five other institutions, including Brooklyn Academy of Music, but the leafy country opera house decided to drop it following complaints. It was left to La Monnaie in Brussels to mount the world premiere, with the Brooklyn Academy giving the first US performance.

It was understandable that Glyndebourne did not want its manicured lawns threatened by protest, but a little more controversy might do wonders for the company’s image. These days, the most heat being generated is over the house’s plans to build a wind turbine in the rolling English countryside.

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