Leading producers including Sonia Friedman and Michael Harrison have defended the industry from claims made by Jamie Lloyd that the industry is corrupt.
They have been joined by Edward Snape, producer of Kenneth Branagh’s season of plays in the West End, who labelled Lloyd’s comments “misguided and insulting”.
Lloyd told The Stage at the opening of Doctor Faustus that too many producers were exploiting celebrity casting by charging upwards of £100 for tickets, and described as “corrupt” the practice of offering premium price tickets without subsidising reduced price ticketing schemes.
Responding, Friedman said her company “feels an absolute obligation to balance the economics of producing big new productions” despite not having public subsidy.
She said she had a “passionate commitment to engaging, inspiring and exciting new and younger audiences to experience the thrill and wonder of live theatre and storytelling”.
“We have helped pioneer accessible pricing in the commercial sector and will always be dedicated and resolute in doing so as long as my company is producing theatre,” she said.
Friedman’s production of Funny Girl has 150 seats at £25 or less per performance. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which she is also producing, has 250 tickets per show at £15 or less in the preview period. Premium seats cost £125 and £65 respectively.
Harrison, who produced Gypsy in London, said he objected to the word “corrupt”.
He pointed out that most West End shows had “affordable prices as well as premium tickets”.
“The problem is, it’s getting more and more expensive to produce in the West End and stars will only commit for very short periods. If demand is there then it’s obvious revenues are going to be maximised by producers to stand a chance of recouping and hopefully making a profit,” he said.
He added: “It’s not fashionable to say so but making a profit now and again is actually important for investors. I don’t think anyone is retiring on the profits of a single limited season play in the West End these days, so as long as there are lots of prices I don’t feel it’s as big an issue as it’s been made this week.”
Snape criticised Lloyd for misusing the word ‘corrupt’, which he said implied fraudulent activity in the West End.
He said that, as with major sporting events, premium shows “drive towards premium prices”.
But he added that he was “sympathetic that we need to have access” to affordable seats and revealed that Branagh and he had discussed putting tickets above the £95 premium price, but decided not to.
“It’s all got a bit silly and I don’t quite understand the issue,” he said.
However, actor Juliet Stevenson, speaking to The Stage this week at the Alan Bates Award, agreed with Lloyd.
“I don’t consider that I can afford to go to the West End and I am a lucky, privileged person who earns well, relatively speaking. I totally agree it’s extremely divisive and it’s a great shame because theatre was never intended to be for the rich,” she said.