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2012 Olympics: London's West End optimistic

Published:Sunday | April 22, 2012 | 12:00 AM
A woman struggles with an umbrella as the heavy rain falls outside the Olympic Stadium, in London last Wednesday. - AP
West End theatre workers and performers dance in front of the Olympic countdown clock to mark the 100-day countdown, in Trafalgar Square, central London, last Wednesday. With 100 days to go until the 2012 London Olympics, the city's theatre community is increasingly confident that culture won't suffer during a summer devoted to celebrating sport. - AP


London's theatre industry is increasingly confident that culture won't suffer during a summer devoted to celebrating sports.

West End producers had been apprehensive that the 2012 London Olympics could deter people from travelling to London or visiting its central entertainment district at the height of the summer tourist season.

Composer and impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber had earlier even predicted a "bloodbath", saying that several shows could likely shut down during the July 27-August 12 Olympics.

That's not the feeling now.

"There's a fear factor - you don't know what it's going to be like," West End producer Nica Burns said last Wednesday. "None of us in London theatre have experienced London during the Olympics. Neither have the people who run the transport system or the city as a whole."

Argued case

But Burns said the theatre community had forcefully argued its case to Olympic organisers and London authorities, who have pressed to inform tourists of all the non-sporting delights that Britain's capital has to offer.

"The theatre will always fight to keep its corner, and that's exactly what we did," she said.

Olympic organisers marked the 100-day countdown last Wednesday with a West End pep rally in Trafalgar Square, where dozens of theatre performers danced energetically in a typically London blend of sunshine and drizzle.

"It's gong to be a summer that we'll remember for the rest of our lives," said stage and movie director Stephen Daldry, who is executive producer of the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies. "We're here to celebrate the sport, we're here to celebrate the culture - and to celebrate London. It's a great stage and it's going to be all around us."

Businesses anxious

With Britain's economy still sluggish after a recession, businesses in London are anxious about the effect of the games - hopeful but uncertain of an Olympic tourism boost.

The city's West End theatres have defied the economic gloom and seen box-office takings rise for several years running. Last year, the 52 main venues took in £528 million (US$845 million).

Burns said the biggest remaining unknown is how well London's public transport system will hold up under the onslaught of Olympic visitors.

"If the transport doesn't work, can I recommend very strongly walking?" she said. "All the theatres are very close to each other."

Actor Deka Walmsley, who plays the title character's coal miner father in the London production of Billy Elliot, was among the performers encouraging visitors to take in a show during the games.

"Come, see some sport, see a bit of theatre - it'll be brilliant," he said. "Hopefully, it won't be raining."