The feast of new plays, and the famine (mostly) of their further life
We are exceptionally blessed in London with the number of new plays that are produced annually, from the Royal Court and National to the Bush and Hampstead and smaller outlets like Theatre 503.
There are, however, hardly any new plays ever produced in the West End nowadays – the first in ages, Barking in Essex which comes to Wyndham's next month, is by a playwright who sadly hasn't lived to see it there. Clive Exton died in 2007, with a production of this play being planned at the time of his death. Mostly, of course, West End producers only want to transfer plays that have been tried and already tested elsewhere first, or come with the insurance of a star and subject that have (Helen Mirren, reprising the role of The Queen in The Audience), just as those who produce musicals similarly seek recognition factors.
So it is sad to have to acknowledge that most new plays mostly vanish into the ether after their first runs, only living on in the memories of those lucky few that saw them or in a playscript that is happily produced nowadays for most new plays, courtesy usually of independent publishers Nick Hern Books (which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary) and Oberon.
But just occasionally a play bucks the trend and reaches a wider constituency, by luck or perseverance. Now that Jamie Lloyd has his own production company in the West End based at Trafalgar Studios, he's been able this week to revisit Alexi Kaye Campbell's debut play The Pride, which he first directed for its 2008 Royal Court premiere in the tiny Theatre Upstairs.
As Aleks Sierz noted in his review of the new production for The Stage,
The original studio production had room for only 85 people per show, so this extended run offers a larger audience the chance to see this landmark study of gay experience across more than half a century.
And it is most welcome, too: a rich, rewarding and multi-layered work that is quietly devastating. The play is full of an aching poignancy as it parallels two fractured gay love stories 50 years apart, and shows how far we've come. Those battles may have been hard won; but they are also yet to be won in some places, too. The cast reminded us of this at the curtain calls when they held placards with the words "To Russia, with love" on them.
Last year the Royal Court gave extended runs for three new plays it had originally produced in Sloane Square in a residency at the Duke of York's that comprises Laura Wade's Posh, April de Angelis's Jumpy and Nick Payne's Constellations. And tonight, of course, the Almeida's hit production of Lucy Kirkwood's Chimerica transfers directly to re-open at the Harold Pinter. So it is possible for exceptional work to reach a wider audience.
Of course, it comes at a price – in the case of Chimerica, premium tickets are a whopping £75. But there are also 100 tickets at £10 for every performance, including day seats. Tickets for The Pride, meanwhile, go for £65 at premium prices, but again there are day seats at £10.