I'm waiting for Nathan to return from his first day of rehearsals. He's playing the Jaguar in Just So at the Tabbard Theatre in Chiswick. The very fact that he's decided to work on the London Fringe makes it clear in my mind, that in these deeply troubled times, the Fringe is where the exciting stuff is going to start happening.
The sad truth is that everything seems to be going down the pan in the West End at the moment, certainly in terms of musical theatre. There was even a rumour some weeks ago that the new production of Flashdance was going to get its notice on its press night... before the reviews came out. Fortunately this didn't prove to be the case, and instead, the production limps forward, watched by tiny audiences who can’t afford the £50 ticket prices.
Producers are running scared and no one seems prepared to be bold. Boldness is the only thing that will breathe new life, and more importantly bring new audiences into musical theatre. That said, there are now an increasingly large number of high calibre performers and directors who are turning to the Fringe to finally play the roles and direct the shows they've always longed to do. As a result, the standard of work on the Fringe has sky-rocketed like a missile off the coast of California. The Fringe is no longer just the terrain of wanna-bes and never-weres, and has instead become the place where you go to see an intimate close-up of your favourite West End performer doing his favourite show. With any luck, people will begin to take risks with the types of shows they decide to put on and a few young, fresh composers will suddenly see the point in writing works of musical theatre... And the revolution will be upon us. If I found a decent book writer, even I may well find myself attracted back to the medium. These could be incredibly exciting times...
I was astonished yesterday when I called the Arts Council to ask if they'd help to promote the Pepys Motet (which they'd very kindly funded) and was told that they’d do what they could, but that their press team currently had their work cut out dealing with stories about cuts in the arts and the way that the Arts Council was being re-aligned. I thought how sad it was for a wonderful organisation to be forced to pass up an opportunity to promote what it’s funded in favour of promoting stories justifying what it’s not!
The moral of this blog is three-fold. Firstly, support the Fringe. The show you'll see is likely to be much better than you expect. Secondly, lobby the government to create bigger tax breaks for individuals who fund the Arts. If we had a philanthropic system more akin to the one in America, the Arts wouldn’t need the public purse. Thirdly, a group of wealthy bankers needs get together to create a pot of funds specifically for the promotion of the arts, but they need to think out of the box. We don't need any more money to go into buildings, or to fund actors through drama schools. We do, however, need a fund which enables young composers to get their work recorded. No one reads scores any more, and there are no bursaries available for recording projects, so it’s very difficult for composers to get their feet on the bottom rung of the ladder - particularly in musical theatre.
This is a call to arms. Do your bit for the Arts. Forget about expecting the government to provide actual cash for the industry; that money’s long gone... It's time to approach the problem from a different prespective.
November 10th 1660, and Pepys was a busy man in the Navy office. There were debts to be paid and Parliament needed to be lobbied to pay them. Pepys spent the afternoon darting from Westminster to various coffee houses, where he missed almost everyone he’d set out to see. He found himself in St Paul’s Churchyard buying books, which was very much his default setting. If in doubt, buy a book. On this occasion, he bought something called Montelion, which he didn’t like, so burnt it. Pepys got quite into burning books that he thought were silly, or dangerous. It's not something I’m entirely comfortable with. In my opinion, after photographs, books are about the most horrendous things that you can burn! Well, perhaps apart from my arm hairs, which so often go up in smoke when I’m cooking, it’s not funny.
On the way home, Pepys bought a goose. If I’d have managed to leave the house today, which would have been a proper treat, I wonder what I'd have brought. I still need soap... and Ribena.