London West end Theatres should offer cheap seats to attract a new generation of fans, the director Michael Grandage argues to attract younger audience.
The award-winning director, who has just finished a 15-month run of plays in the West End, said the theatre should maintain its high standards and be celebrated as a highbrow art form.
He said attracting a new generation of theatregoers was important to “shift” the demographic of middle-class, middle-aged audiences.
Grandage was speaking at the close of his star-studded run, which finished last night with the final performance of Henry V. His Michael Grandage Company season has played to 390,000 people, with a quarter of the tickets sold for £10. Almost a third were bought by first-time theatregoers.
The decision, Grandage said, was a conscious effort to attract new audiences. The plays, Privates on Parade, Peter and Alice, The Cripple of Inishmaan, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Henry V, have featured actors familiar from film and television such as Dame Judi Dench, Daniel Radcliffe, David Walliams, Sheridan Smith and Jude Law.
Grandage said it was vital to attract a new generation in order to preserve the theatre in a world of “shortcuts”.
“We knew that we wanted to try and shift the demographic of a West End audience,” he said of his season. “The West End audience, I suspect, is best defined as predominantly middle-aged, middle-class, white. We wanted to make sure that we contributed in some way to the shifting of that demographic, in favour of younger people.
“If you don’t do anything about that at all, there won’t be any West End left because there will be nobody to play to. Unless you do start a lifelong relationship with younger people about the theatre it’s going to stagnate.”
When asked whether there was a temptation to adapt or simplify plays which might be perceived as demanding, Grandage insisted it was more useful to expect audiences to rise to the challenge.
“I think we are living in a world that is financially bankrupt, and we’re also living in a world that, increasingly, is becoming intellectually bankrupt,” he said.
“Everyone is helping us to a shortcut. We’ve become tabloid in our approach to life, and I don’t think that’s helpful. The way to turn it around is to not apologise, to say ‘take this on, it will make us all better’.”
Speaking of the importance of the arts, he said they could “literally change people’s lives”.
“Every time there has been a recession, the one thing that has survived and actually gone up is the theatre,” he said. “People at their most miserable time are looking for stories to take them out of themselves.
“The theatre has a huge responsibility; politically, socially … It can literally change people’s lives.
“If we take that responsibility and are unafraid of saying it, then we’ll have the opposite of dumbing down.”
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