2005 West End

July 7th London Bombings (wikipedia)

The 7th July terrorist bombings affected the London Theatre Industry in a similar way to the attacks on New York four years previously. Occurring in the height of summer and in popular tourist destinations, many were put off coming to the capital. Considered to be the lifeblood of London theatre during these months, tourist numbers decreased, having a detrimental affect on smaller shows. The bombings themselves stopped West End shows for the first time since the Blitz, as theatres dimmed their lights and had a dark night, reopening again the next day with a minute’s silence.

Early in the year, American playwright Arthur Miller died at the age of 89. Harold Pinter was announced as the Nobel Prize Winner for Literature, the first British playwright to win the award, days after his 75th Birthday. American musical theatre legend Stephen Sondheim also turned 75, alongside British director Peter Hall, who directed a new production of Whose Life is it Anyway? starring Kim Cattrall. Sondheim’s difficult musical Sunday in the Park With George was revived by the tiny Menier Chocolate Factory in South London, starring Daniel Evans as Georges Seurat. The production tied the two acts together through fantastic scenic projection, making the show come to life.

Acorn Antiques Show Logo (wikipedia)

The year was a particularly dull one for new musicals, but despite this, 2005 will be remembered for the highest increase in ticket prices, as the first £65 ticket was introduced, finally going above a top price seat on Broadway. Acorn Antiques – the Musical was written by comedian Victoria Wood, based on her soap opera of the same name. Expanding the series into a full length theatre piece resulted in Wood taking the premise of the original show and making it a play within a play. Critics were not impressed with the effect, and rewrites since have scrapped the first act of the show, making it fit a more conventional musical theatre form. The show was aided by director Trevor Nunn and a talented cast including Julie Walters, Sally Ann Triplett and Celia Imrie who helped keep the humour alive. Controversially the show pushed ticket prices at the Theatre Royal Haymarket to the record level of £65, shocking many including the Society of London Theatre.

Billy Elliot Logo (wikipedia, Scproductions )

The show that got everyone talking this year was Elton John and Lee Hall’s musical Billy Elliot which opened at the Victoria Palace Theatre. Based on the film of the same name directed by Stephen Daldry, the musical had a £5.5 million budget and opened to rave reviews and a large advance. The show concerns the miners strikes of the 1980s, alongside young Billy who wants to become a ballet dancer, encouraged by his teacher Mrs Wilkinson. Northerner Tim Healey played Billy’s father alongside Haydn Gwynne as Mrs Wilkinson. Peter Darling’s choreography was outstanding and captured the rawness of the 80s spirit alongside Billy’s balletic ambitions. Elton John’s score proved to be popular, and the singer released the song ‘Electricity’ as a single in order to promote the musical. The show was the hottest ticket in town, and the most successful British musical of the year.

The Donmar Warehouse produced a new production of the 300 year old Schiller play Mary Stuart that captivated audiences at the intimate venue, before transferring to the large Apollo Theatre. Based on the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, the play was finely acted by Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter and was a surprise hit.

Ewan McGreggor (wikipedia)

Celebrity turns continued across London as the Donmar also produced a new production of the classic musical Guys and Dolls at the Piccadilly Theatre which starred Scottish heartthrob Ewan McGregor in the role of Sky, who was later replaced by Patrick Swayze. The show also starred Jenna Russell and Jane Krakowski as the female leads, and the production enjoyed a two year successful run. Kim Cattrall, of ‘Sex and the City’ fame, opened in a new revival of Brian Clark’s play Whose Life is it Anyway? at the Comedy Theatre in a role which challenged many people’s perspectives of her ability as an actress. As a quadriplegic character, Cattrall was paralysed from the waist down, as the drama presented both the cases for and against euthanasia. Critics praised English born Cattrall in her West End debut, showing a new side of her exceptional acting ability.


Meanwhile the curse of the Shaftesbury Theatre continued to prove true to form as a large scale adaptation of ‘The Far Pavilions’ by M.M Kaye fell victim to the decline in tourism after the London bombings. The show had an initial budget of £7million, which it failed to recoup, and critical reactions to the show were far from positive. West End Theatre 2005 was a difficult egg to crack.