The reason why theatres or any other form of industry tend to be clustered in towns or cities must surely be due in part to the old adage of there being ‘strength in numbers’. Different industries have different needs in respect of street lighting; access to public transport, parking space etc. and it is far more viable for city councils to meet the needs of a collective community rather than an isolated incidence. The entertainment industry faces very specific demands if it is to attract and retain the custom of an ever more discerning public and again, these are more easily met from within the framework of a tight-knit community. Together with New York, London’s theatreland is famed for its dramatic and musical offerings and the calibre of the artists who appear in them. As such, a greater burden is placed on all involved to ensure that it does not disappoint its international audience. Being the cultural heart of a great city elicits high expectations and these require big budgets in order to be met. To generate this income the level of excitement, glitz and glamour must remain at a level high enough to sustain the seduction of an increasingly cash-strapped public.
Theatres are places of big billboards, bright lights and an air of excitement and anticipation aimed purely at attracting audiences and London’s famous West End will be expected to excel in this. Tourism plays a significant role in the UK economy and visitors are more likely to spend lavishly than are the general UK public and must therefore to a large extent be pandered to. Having the most renowned theatres and theatre offerings conveniently situated in close proximity to each other allows groups of tourists to attend different shows yet in part, still enjoy an entertaining evening together. A large majority of those attending a theatre production will have planned for a night out which includes dinner and this is another reason for theatres to be clustered. The huge potential for custom inspires great incentive for restaurateurs to establish themselves in such locations and great competitiveness to attract and satisfy the appetites of diners from many diverse cultures. Again, this is a great boost to the economy: a fact that would influence the planning considerations of any city council.
Visiting a district almost exclusively dedicated to theatres is for theatre-lovers the equivalent of children visiting Disneyland: it is another world entirely. The days of the local movie-house or theatre are long gone, never to return. Today’s internet-driven entertainment industry demands competitors who are able to equal or better the allure of the sound and visual effects achieved by technology. In order to survive, theatres must ensure they remain attractive to all generations and to do so they must also ensure that they remain clustered together. As long as their collective billboards continue to entice us and the stars of stage and screen keep the red carpets well-trodden, their fates for the foreseeable future seem secure.
This guide to theatre distribution was written in association with the Leicester Square Box Office, leading Lion King Ticket reseller at 42, Cranbourn Street, London, WC2H 7AN