How to Produce a West End Show

Julius Green
Oberon Books

How to Produce a West End Show

When they market this book, Oberon should go far beyond pushing it towards a readership of aspiring West End producers. While some sections can be a little technical for the lay reader, the vast majority of this well-written volume gives a real behind-the-scenes insight into what it takes to put together a major production in a large commercial London theatre.

Anyone that does pick up this volume in the hope of getting inspired to emulate Mr Green would do well to start with the final chapter entitled "How to Cut Your Losses on a West End Show". As anyone who has ever been close to the creation of a play or musical in town knows, the odds are that everyone of those darling angels will not only lose some money on each investment that they make but the likelihood is that they will lose everything that they put in.

That makes theatre production a risky business although, as Mr Green is at pains to point out, most producers spend other people's money rather than their own and end up with some kind of fee from even the worst flop. Even so, a vast amount of time and much energy has to be invested in the creation of one of these babies and the compensation is unlikely to be adequate unless you happen to fall over a hit.

The subject matter is presented in a methodical fashion from setting up and budgeting a show to finding money, a theatre, the piece itself, as well as cast, creative and backstage crews.

The mixture of hard grind and creative artistry is conveyed in such a way that readers filled with enthusiasm are unlikely to be put off this rollercoaster profession but at the same time, they will begin to understand the qualities required to succeed. There is little doubt that this writer and his esteemed associates have exactly what it takes, as is borne out by a long history of successes to make up for the odd dud.

Over the years, there have been far fewer books written by producers than actors, writers and directors. This is natural as, despite their billing, those so far behind the scenes rarely attract the interest of the public.

This paucity of material makes How to Produce a West End Show even more valuable and there is so much packed in that even those steeped in theatre lore can learn a great deal about what goes on during the period of creation, marketing and operation of what everybody always hopes will be the next Mousetrap, Cats or in more recent times, One Man, Two Guvnors.

Seemingly every facet of the business is patiently and intelligibly explained and there are numerous tips to avoid getting conned by everybody with whom you come into contact. It is also revealing to learn of the arcane practices that still proliferate in a trade that to a considerable extent seems to be anchored a few decades behind the rest of us.

What makes this book so good is the author's experience and willingness to provide really practical advice. In doing so, he gives away much about his own personality so that by the end of the 300 pages, it is easy to imagine a cultured, older gentleman whose views are probably best reflected by the Mail or Telegraph and include a firm belief that rules are to be followed but pushed to their boundaries.

Whether you want to become a West End producer, try your hand in Edinburgh or a fringe venue or just wish to learn a great deal more about life in the theatre today, this book comes strongly recommended.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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