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‘West End theatres hot and uncomfortable’ – 100 years ago in The Stage (plus ça change)

Detail from The Stage's 'Chit Chat' page of August 7, 1919
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August 7, 1919: With a feature in the Times from August 2, 2019 claiming that “London’s most famous theatres are elegant, historic, atmospheric – and falling apart” and that new tastes are moving towards “360-degree spectacle”, a 100-year-old editorial in The Stage is a reminder that neither of these are new complaints. Nor are concerns about competition from rival entertainment venues.

Writing in 1919, we observed: “Lately we have been hearing that our theatres are insufferably hot. Soon, no doubt, we shall hear that they are outrageously cold. The way of the average complainer is that they are so many ovens or so many ice-boxes simply out of mere neglect on the part of managers.

“Little consideration is shown for the difficulties of managers, beset with the double task of satisfying their patrons behind as well as before the curtain, and face to face while with the problem of making both ends meet.

“The hazard of theatrical production is more acute than ever, just as the scale of expenditure is greater. The tastes of playgoers are even more fluctuant than they were before the war and managers liking to please, try to respond to each exacting demand as it is made. Has not lavish spectacle on the stage been the outward and visible sign of the modern craving for luxury, which the war seems to have done nothing to diminish?

“Some grandiose plans are in the making for palatial places of amusement, though whether the dramatic stage will have its due share of the new houses is doubtful. The music-hall and the picture-house are in these respects energetic competitors, who somehow are getting better served by the architects and the builders than the regular theatre is.

“Generally speaking, improvement in ventilation, and still more in heating, in theatres and similar places is all important. An equable temperature and wholesome air are specially necessary where large numbers of persons come together. Both, however, are not so easy to obtain as some critics seem to imagine.”

Poll: Should more West End theatres prioritise audience comfort over seating capacity?

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