Published on Wednesday, 25 March 2015 17:20
Written by Chantal Guevara
One thing we are used to in dance is the too-short runs which most shows have (unless it's a Matthew Bourne production), which typically leaves people with only one or maybe two chances to catch a show before it goes. And if you miss that chance to see it but really want to see it, what do you do?
London is not just a city but also a state of mind: Londoners know that over 90% of all shows [at a guess] will tour there, and the rest is obviously not worth bothering with, from their perspective. The result is a very overindulged and spoilt audience, which will refuse to travel to numerous parts of the city for shows as it's a bit too far away or annoying to get to. (It's justifiable, though: I spent five years living near Heathrow airport, and it was quicker to travel to most parts of Europe than to East London).
I used to be amazed at the distances which ballet and opera audiences would travel for shows: London-based friends would happily travel to Yorkshire, Manchester, Paris and even Russia for shows when, as aforementioned, I'd balk at even going to East London for friends' sharings. Their behaviour and dedication was clearly beyond the norm, compared with audiences for other artforms.
And yet, why should London audiences expect otherwise? We know that the national press rarely ventures beyond the M25, so London shows are essential for press coverage, and London audiences carry a certain prestige which the lovely regional audiences lack; during a talk at The Place several years ago, Akram Khan talked about how terrifying he found the London audiences, compared with other national and international cities, including Paris.
But sometimes, there are companies such as Motionhouse which rarely tour to London, or companies such as Northern Ballet and Phoenix Dance Theatre which have diverse touring schedules which sort of neglect London. Or even, there are shows which don't take place in London at all, which puts London audiences in an uncertain quandary: do they decide the show doesn't exist, do they get huffy and decide the show's not worth it, as the show clearly feels that way about them [disclaimer: this has more to do with venues and funders than company attitudes], or do they dare to venture forth?
The problem with living in London is that it's a safe little bubble which is really hard to break out of. It's as though there are alternating "Here Be Dragons" and "Abandon Faith All Ye Who Enter Here" signs as you cross the M25, so people daren't attempt to make the effort. Yet what is the worst that can happen if you venture beyond London's boundaries? You might actually enjoy it? You might actually breathe clean air? You might not know anyone in the audience? A stranger might talk to you? You might buy an extra drink as the bar prices are so cheap? Or even, in extreme cases like mine: you might decide you'd rather not live in London any more? Perhaps those are a lot of risks for the average London-based theatregoer.
The biggest myth, however, is about the cost of train travel. Somebody blocked me on Twitter two days ago for insisting that train travel is cheaper than her endless rants suggested. I've spent two years travelling across the country for shows, meetings, work, family and whims, so I'd like to think if anyone knows about cheap train fares, it's me.
As a starting point, let's take Candoco's 'The Show Must Go On'. It has just had an incredibly successful run in London, and its next stop is Nottingham, followed by Glasgow. Megabus is offering one-way train fares between London and Nottingham from £10. Motto? Always check Megabus. Even if you have no intention of setting foot on one of their coaches.
For all other journeys, don't bloody look at the return fares unless they're actually reasonable. You can get one-way tickets from London to Liverpool, Manchester or Leeds from about £12, and to Newcastle from £15; during East Coast's Big Sale earlier this year, one-way standard class tickets were £10, and first class were £30. Although East Coast Trains is no more, at least they gave you free train tickets, which also helped. You also don't have to book really far in advance, though that helps; I went to Leeds last autumn for a meeting, having booked my train ticket only a few days beforehand. The person opposite me was proud that his train ticket only cost £120. Mine cost £12. He didn't talk to me for much longer after I mentioned that.
The other hassle people have to face is missing the last train. But actually, that's not such a bad thing, as hotel accommodation is generally cheaper outside London, and it's entirely possible to find decent and affordable hotel accommodation close to the train station for your quick departure. By taking the 6ish am train from London, Liverpool or Manchester, I can be at work in Durham by 9.30am, so what's the problem? (Besides an allergy to caffeine, that is). And it is far better to be able to relax during a show and the ensuing postshow drinks, and then stroll to your hotel when you're done, than being on high alert and sprinting to the train just in time to catch the last train; yes, you may get to sleep in your own bed, but you've probably just missed half the show and/or lots of great networking/social opportunities.
Another benefit of seeing shows outside London is the audiences. We've already covered the fact that London audiences can be very hard to impress, which is why it's so beneficial to watch shows with regional audiences with fewer hangups. That said, I watched Company Chameleon's 'Beauty of the Beast' in Manchester, London and Leeds, and the most engaged audience by far was in London. These things are unpredictable. I really did expect their best audiences to be in Manchester and Leeds. But the more time I spend outside of London, the more I appreciate non-London audiences for their responses. London audiences may loathe people who open their mouths during shows, but it's great to hear people enjoying what they're watching. Great for the performers, too.
But the most significant thing about all this is getting out of London. It's actually really inexpensive to leave it and return to it. And not being in London is actually a really good thing. The air is cleaner. It's cheaper. You can relax and unwind more. People are nicer and friendlier. The audience atmosphere is better. Ticket prices are lower. All that stuff. As I said earlier, there's a really good risk that you might want to stay. Or get hooked on travelling outside London.
Ultimately, however, it returns to the fact that London is just one city of many in Great Britain, and that people should celebrate shows being held in other cities and urging them to visit, and appreciate this country's national arts industry rather than focus on a teensy little pocket of it. Given what people are likely to pay for preshow and interval drinks, train tickets and accommodation are actually very reasonable.
One of the first regional shows I attended was the premiere of Tom Dale's 'Refugees of the Septic Heart' at DanceXchange in Birmingham; I had travelled from Liverpool to see it, followed by a late train back to London. I have only two regrets from that show: firstly, that only one person asked a question in the postshow talk and secondly, that I didn't realise in advance that my London train was delayed by half an hour. I could have had another drink, damn it.
If you're a Londoner, and there's a show you want to see which is outside London, just book those train tickets and accommodation if need be, and try to look forward to it.
And if you don't know where to start, check Birmingham; it is becoming the new hub after London. Thanks to Janet Smith's wonderful work and recent GFA funding for NSCD, Leeds has become the next place to be, with a dizzying array of fast-rising choreographers creating on NSCD's students and showing their work there. Finally, but in no way last place, Newcastle's Dance City has launched an audacious programming schedule of booking mid- to large-scale companies (with a few emerging companies chucked in for good measure).
If, by the end of this, you're still protesting about leaving London, then I guess this blog has failed. Get out there, enjoy it, have a good time. End of.