David Ian speaking on Simon Mayo’s BBC Radio 5 programme today was upbeat about the state of West End theatre saying that “historically people tend to go to the theatre in times of recession”.

I’m sure that there is more than one theatre producer in London praying that he is right.

Whilst musicals continue to be blasted for keeping the West End buoyant, Ian was unapologetic about their continuing appeal, even at the expense of drama, and said that market forces were to blame for the large number of musicals in London.

However, you can’t help but feel that the West End is being a little complacent thinking that it has bucked the current economic trend.

In New York last month, New York’s city tourism and marketing company launched a new campaign to attract people to see a Broadway show driven by the fear that a recession-driven drop in tourism will hurt Broadway ticket sales. The not particularly snappy “Ask New York City about New York City Broadway” campaign will run across posters and in taxis city wide.

18 shows have closed on Broadway over the past few months – some because of business or economic concerns. And yesterday Zorro posted it’s closing notices, joining The Sound of Music which bows out later this month.

Could it be that the UK’s The Society of London Theatre – and the Mayor of London – need to follow New York’s lead and become more aggressive in marketing the West End?

Footnote:

On the subject of using star names to help theatre stay alive, Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the Broadway League, the industry trade association, told the New York Times recently that “Big stars do bring in audiences… I think they help bring up the visibility”. This was echoed by David Ian today who said “Unknown pieces with unknown actors are very difficult to sell just now.”

David Ian is one of the West End’s most important producers and has played a significant role in recent BBC and ITV talent shows casting musical revivals of Grease and The Sound of Music.