BWW Interview: West End Producer On His Latest Book
West End Producer is one of the most popular but mysterious social influencers in the West End. He has been involved in the entertainment business his whole life and now both celebrates and pokes fun at theatre on his popular Twitter account and in his books. His second book, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Going to the Theatre, is out now.
Can you tell us anything about what inspired the West End Producer persona?
I just thought people were taking the business of show far too seriously! I wanted to inject a spirit of fun into the theatre world. Many times you'll see actors and directors looking far too po-faced, frantically flapping their Stanislavsky about. But it's not about that. It's really about JAZZ HANDS, dear!
Was the persona formulated all at once or has it changed over time?
It's changed over time. To begin with it was just an online persona, but when I had to appear in person at the Lyric Theatre for my 'Search For A Twitter Star' final in 2012, I had to find a physical character. So I found the mask to cover my beautiful face.
Was it a challenge to transfer your wit and irreverent tone from Twitter to writing your column for The Stage and your books?
In some respects, yes. A tweet can only be 140 characters - well, until recently when Donald Trump successfully threw a temper tantrum to get that changed - so everything had to be nice and concise. But I must admit I think Twitter is a very useful writing tool, as it means you have to cut all the rubbish. I adore writing, so was very excited about the prospect of writing the books and columns.
Your first book, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Acting, was a big success. Were you expecting that?
Of course I was. It's the best book about acting ever written, dear!
What gave you the idea for this new book, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Going to the Theatre?
I wanted to write something for everyone in front of the curtain. Whereas my first one was for people back- and onstage, this one is for everyone else, the real people, the people who matter: the AUDIENCE. Going to the theatre can be a tricky business, so I wanted to write a practical but entertaining guide on the best way to do it (and also help people save a bit of money too).
Who do you hope will read the book?
Anyone who has ever been, or wants to go to the theatre (that's a lot of royalties for me!). In truth it's the perfect book for anyone who loves theatre. It prods, tickles, teases, tussles and taunts every bit of the theatregoing experience. My hope is that everyone who has been to the theatre will recognise themselves in it, and find the whole thing rather amusing.
How did you try to strike a balance between humour and actually sharing information about theatre?
Well, like my first book I wanted to make people giggle, but also actually offer some practical help. I offer advice about buying tickets, going to the bar, which shows to see, how to find bargain tickets, and also give a tour of every single theatre in the West End. It's important to me that the humour is based in truth.
What was the most enjoyable part of the writing process?
Sitting in the audience and picking out the different types of 'audience members' - that was fun. And also writing all my potted histories of shows (which allowed my imagination to run rather wild).
Do you have a favourite section or chapter of the book?
Yes - the beginning, middle, and end.
What do you think are the best and worst things about the West End?
The best thing is the quality of performers we have - they're simply second-to-none. And not just those onstage; even the understudies can be quintuple or sometimes even sextuple threats, able to simultaneously juggle, swallow a sword and belt out a stirring rendition of "Defying Gravity", all while standing on their heads.
Oh, and the passion of the fans is marvellous, too - though they can sometimes take it a bit too far by making voodoo dolls out of locks of Sheridan Smith's hair. We should be very proud of our wonderful West End. The worst thing? Probably the expense. And lack of ladies' loos.
You defend the professional theatre critic in the book. How useful are reviews to producers like yourself?
Reviewers are incredibly important. Their voice is shared and valued in the industry, and they are qualified to offer an expert opinion. Obviously it is only their opinion, but the joy of a critic is the trust you can put in them. For audiences, it can be useful to find which critics you admire and have similar taste too - as these are the ones whose recommendation is good for you.
For us producers, it means we get to put lots of lovely stars on the poster - but only if the reviews are good. Otherwise we take all the critics off our Christmas card lists and send John Barrowman round to their houses to beat them up.
Very much enjoyed your breakdown of audience types. What's the most memorable audience interaction you've ever had?
I had to tell someone off for literally unpacking a picnic next to me! I was in the stalls and she was sitting at the end of the row. Halfway through the first act of Jerry Springer: The Opera, she started getting out some sandwiches, a thermos flask, crisps, and a Tupperware box of mixed meats.
It was when she began laying them on the floor that I asked her if she wouldn't mind waiting until the interval. But then Elaine Paige does sometimes get peckish during Act One.
Tell us about the Theatre Prefect Programme.
We need to Make Theatre Great Again! Audience members are getting naughtier by the day - using mobile phones, eating smelly food, talking, even copulating during the show. It simply must stop. It's distracting for fellow audience members, not to mention for the actors gurning onstage. When people have paid a lot of money for a ticket I think they deserve to watch a show without the unnecessary distraction of the person next to them opening a can of skipjack tuna.
So my army of Theatre Prefects is here to put a stop to these annoying individuals - ejecting them from the auditorium, and, if necessary, banning them for life. Keep an eye out for my Theatre Prefects at your local theatre - and start behaving, dear!
Are you a fan of the increasing trend of standing ovations?
Only if they're deserved. When I feel a show is rubbish (a shrubbish), I make sure my bottom stays firmly rooted to my seat.
Have you ever had an encounter with one of the theatrical ghosts you mention?
Only a very ghostly Trevor Nunn - but that was on his opening night of Fatal Attraction, and I think he was rather confused. Bless, dear.
Have you decided who will play you in the inevitable film adaptation of the book?
Yes. The person who looks most like me under my mask - Bradley Pitt.
Any plans for a third volume?
Yes, I have several ideas. But my fingers need to get some rest first.
And finally, if one encounters you in the wild(s of the West End), what's your preferred tipple at the bar?
Dom Pérignon of course, dear! (And a bag of Scampi Fries.)
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Going to the Theatre (But Were Too Sloshed to Ask, Dear) by West End Producer is out now, £10.99 paperback, published by Nick Hern Books. Get a free Theatre Prefect badge when you order your copy at www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/goingtothetheatre