West End

West End
   Until the appearance of television in the 1960s, the West End was the epicentre of British entertainment, including everything from music hall acts at the London Palladium to Oedipus Rex the Old Vic. During the 1970s the West End lost this place, for several reasons. First, there were the costs of finally paying a living wage for actors and stage crew combined with London rents. West End theatre became expensive and shows now attract mainly tourists. This in turn means that serious drama, which gave the West End its kudos, was replaced by musicals. The National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company and Young Vic came to London during the 1960s and their subsidized prices accessed everything from Stoppard to Shakespeare, taking risks no commercial management could justify. Everything interesting then seemed to be in the subsidized sector, even though that is unfair to managements responsible for Brief Lives, plays by Simon Gray and Peter Shaffer or Beyond the Fringe. Nevertheless, the growth of fringe theatre at the Hampstead Theatre Club, the King’s Head in Islington and the Bush Theatre directed the artistic focus away from the West End. Additionally, the national companies and regional repertory theatres developed ensemble styles of acting that quite simply produced better results. The ‘star system’, more of a payscale than a style of acting, tended to militate against good performances in all but the smallest casts. Productions at the National and the RSC concentrated on the play as opposed to the way, for example, Noel Coward’s plays were vehicles for him and Gertrude Laurence. West End acting was a hangover from those days of the great actormanagers who did not always give fellow actors a full script.
   STEPHEN KERENSKY

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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