I’ve not seen the viewing figures for the weekend just gone, but over the weekend before on October 8, The X Factor averaged an audience of 9.2m viewers between 8pm and 10.20pm on Saturday October 6, with a five-minute peak of 10.3 million. Meanwhile, Strictly Come Dancing‘s first live show the same night attracted an average audience of 8.7m between 6.30pm and 7.45pm, with a five-minute peak of 10.2m.
By contrast, total attendance for the West End across all of 2011 was 13,915,185.
Of course, you can’t compare these figures like-for-like: West End figures are based on actual box office receipts, not extrapolations of viewing figures based on a sample of the population; and also buying an expensive West End ticket (or even a cheaper one!) involves a level of commitment and travel that turning on the TV, or switching channels, from the comfort of your sofa simply doesn’t.
But it’s still striking how one single programme broadcast can reach nearly as many people in one night as live theatre does across over all our West End theatres across the entire year. On that basis, theatre is still a relatively exclusive activity.
And if that’s the case with theatres that variously seat from around 450 people (the Ambassadors) to nearly 2,300 (the London Palladium), how exclusive does that make a theatre like the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs (80 seats) or Jermyn Street Theatre (70 seats)? More than that: Stomp is on a seemingly never-ending run at the Ambassadors, so even though the house is comparatively small, its annual potential audience reach isn’t.
By contrast, the 30 performance run of All That Fall at Jermyn Street Theatre, that opened last Thursday, will reach a total maximum audience of just 1,800 people. No wonder that, with Michael Gambon and Eileen Atkins starring under the direction of Trevor Nunn, it sold out almost the moment it went on sale. The Jermyn Street Theatre’s website even says the waiting list for tickets is closed.
Of course there’s no answer to this: the supply was always going to exceed the demand. Yet it is being done in conditions that director Trevor Nunn states are perfect: in an interview with the Daily Telegraph last week, he commented,
It’s wonderful to be in an intimate space – the actors don’t have to over-project, they can be intimate and real with each other as if we were listening to radio and we can have a minimum of movement.
So it will be seen by a few aficionados (and AA Gill, who was seated next to me at the opening last Thursday). But Michael Billington, in his Guardian review, wondered aloud if there was another way:
Although the production’s impact depends upon the intimacy of the space, I just wish it could be televised so that both the play and Atkins’s performance could be relished by the many as well as the lucky few.