While there is a long history of solo performances on large stages, encompassing everyone from Charles Dickens reading from his novels to John Gielgud regaling audiences with The Ages of Man, a Shakespearean tour de force, in recent times, West End audiences have expected something more substantial in return for increasingly large amounts of their hard-earned money.

If an individual branching out on their own has been rare in a theatre, it is almost unheard of on TV and, though some expert film buff might be able to cite an example, may never have happened in a feature-length movie. The most obvious exception that proves the rule is Alan Bennett’s superlative Talking Heads series, but then he is a genius with enough name awareness to wow the BBC into an unlikely project.

Instead, solo shows have become the stuff of the fringe, primarily in Edinburgh where, even ignoring comedy, a surprisingly high percentage of stage offerings feature a single performer.

At their best, these can be intoxicating experiences, observing an expert transforming him or herself into dozens of well-differentiated characters and instantly transforming from fear to laughter with little more than a change of expression and carefully tuned script. However, that is rare and a stream of average Edinburgh solos quickly becomes tedious. For whatever reason, Broadway has generally been more favourably disposed towards this form, usually featuring a TV or film star whose name will draw in audiences.

Occasionally, producers will also welcome a beautifully honed piece, although that doesn’t always convert into high seat occupancy rates. Since the advent of the pandemic and the ensuing (not quite) recession, London has followed suit with a vengeance.

To be fair, the path was laid a little earlier, while the economy was in downturn but at least audiences felt safe to venture into crowds. Phoebe Waller Bridge brought Fleabag to the West End, although it didn’t quite have the same impact as the original productions in seedier fringe venues, while Carey Mulligan also triumphed with Girls & Boys at the Royal Court.

Readers may wish to recall that when the BBC made its own statement about the solo show, deciding to transform Fleabag into its own medium, the single character suddenly became the centre of a series with a substantial cast.

The last few years have seen a torrent of lonely performers including Gary Barlow in A Different Stage, Gabriel Byrne Walking with Ghosts and Ian McKellen on Stage. It may not have passed readers by that the main attraction in every one of these cases has been the presence of a marketable star, either of TV and film or, in the case of Barlow, pop music.

That trend continues with a trio of new female appearances that have grasped the attention or are about to do so. First there was the multi-award-winning Prima Facie, which proved so popular in the West End that it instantly transferred to Broadway, no doubt helped not only by an intriguing script but also the presence of media darling Jodie Comer.

Next up was Sheridan Smith in Shirley Valentine, a revival of Willy Russell’s popular comedy from the mid-1980s that was waiting to happen as soon as it became apparent that low budget theatre was a necessity for many risk-averse producers.

For anyone that has caught the bug, yet another West End opening beckons with Maureen Lipman playing Martin Sherman’s Rose in a transfer from the Park Theatre.

This is undoubtedly a trend that will continue, as producers see opportunities to fill theatres without having to pay the earth for stars or, in some cases, sets.

The really big question is whether theatregoers who have been weaned on big budget, stage-packed musicals will be willing to pay top dollar for entertainments that, of necessity, will have relatively short running times and attractions that can pall very quickly unless the script is a jam and the star in question totally mesmeric.