If there is anyone who knows how to help theatres up and down the country as they try to weather the dire economic outlook this year, it is Bill Kenwright.
The man at the top of the UK’s largest independent theatre company and the Everton FC chairman – a bit random in many people’s eyes – launches his latest jukebox musical Save the Last Dance For Me in Kent this week.
He gave me a long, in-depth interview earlier this month, in which he stated he loves provincial theatres and actively chose Dartford’s Orchard Theatre to debut his new show.
Here he talks about why he is launching a new production when others are closing – he closed Blood Brothers after 24 years in the West End last year because it was not making any money – and what troubles face theatres at the moment.
Why did you choose to launch Save the Last Dance For Me in Dartford rather than a big West End theatre or one in a larger city?
“I started off 40 years ago as a provincial theatre producer and that is not a derogatory term in my book.
“[I see myself as] a provincial theatre producer who has big Broadway and West End successes. I love the audiences out there.
“The letters and warmth I get are amazing. They seem to appreciate what I am about and they let me know when it’s bad, too, believe me. They let me know when I’ve got something wrong – and so they should.”
When do you know whether a show is going to be a success?
“You know whether it is going to be a flop about 20 seconds after the curtain goes up and you know pretty quickly if you got it right from the audience.”
So after the success of Dreamboats and Petticoats, is a similar type of musical like Save the Last Dance For Me not too much of a risk?
“You never see a show that does not cost half a million, so that is a bit of a risk.”
And how quick do you get the money back?
“It can be very quick but I’ve got some shows that have been out there two years which still haven’t recouped. It can be forever.”
So why do you stick with them?
“Because I think they will recoup one day. It is called a nervous hit. When it is not quite a flop and not quite a hit and just, is there. The audience are enjoying it but you are not making a lot of money and you decide you are going to live with it for a little while.
Was that what happened with Blood Brothers in the end?
“No. Blood Brothers was losing money in the last year but it had made so much money over the years that I didn’t mind.”
Are people stuggling to go out to the theatre now?
“Yes I do think times are very tough financially and now you have got all the colossal distractions of what you can see on your TV, your DVD and you iPads. It is extraordinary what is out there.
For people to go and see shows is an effort. That is why you have got to try to find something that an audience responds to.”
Save the Last Dance For Me runs at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre from Wednesday, January 16 to Saturday, January 26. Visit www.orchardtheatre.co.uk.