Theatre Expert: a third of all West End theatres may go bankrupt

A third of West End theatres are likely to go bankrupt in the next two years, an expert on London theatres has told Cherwell in an interview. Bob Blackman, the Conservative deputy leader of Brent council in London and a former member of the Greater London Assembly also predicted that many theatres could need government loans, some might become owned by charitable foundations and that empty theatres could become practice spaces for London drama schools.

Blackman wrote a report in late 2007 for the GLA which concluded that many theatres, especially playhouses which do not put on more profitable musicals, were unable to afford necessary structural modifications and needed to try to find new ways of raising funds; he now describes his report as having been written ‘when times were pretty good’ compared to now and said that one of his suggestions, a restoration levy on tickets would not work now: ‘you’ve got to fill the theatre’, and that owners had been ‘standoffish’ and unwilling to take risks.

In his interview with Cherwell, he argued that even though theatres are private companies, there is a need for government investment to protect tourism provided there is a long-term return: "You may come once. If you have a bad experience, you probably won’t come again…you can’t afford for it to fail. The knock-on effect would be that restaurants go out of business. The hotels go out of business. The other tourist attractions start to suffer." He suggested that bankrupt theatres might end up under the control of charities which, according to government policy, are able to receive more government funds than profit-making theatres.

These remarks come as London theatres declared record audiences, though many tickets are now sold at heavy discounts. Any form of bailout would also be hampered by a lack of money: apart from the credit crunch, the government is already diverting money from the arts in London to fund the Olympics, while Crossrail and any Heathrow expansion add up to billions of pounds of government spending on London.

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Delfont Mackintosh and Really Useful Theatres, the two largest owners of theatres in London, declined to comment, while Nimax theatres pointed to an increase in revenues and audiences in the last year. An analysis of Blackman’s interview with Cherwell is available at http://www.cherwell.org/content/8406