Are Theatres Being Replaced with Arenas?

Are Theatres Being Replaced with Arenas?

Lewis Baird

OnStage United Kingdom Columnist

Going to see a play, a musical, ballet or a dance performance mostly means that you are going to the theatre to enjoy a night of glitz and glam in usually an elderly, stunning building or maybe a modern auditorium with contemporary architecture. One of the highlights attending a show for me is definitely stepping inside a building with an aroma of positivity and history, for example the Edinburgh Playhouse is my favourite theatre purely for the atmosphere you get stepping into the auditorium.

However, even though these venues are special, intimate and charming, recently I have been noticing that arenas have been used as venues for performances which would fit nicely into a theatre. Now I do not mean a Kanye West or Little Mix concert. I mean plays, musicals and dance shows. Even pantomimes have been getting introduced into the gigantic venues. This is specifically within the UK I have been noticing this, as obviously our friends across the pond do not have the festive ritual of panto each year. 

The most recent performance I have seen within an arena was something which can be depicted as a play. The show/play was called Still Game Live 2: Bon Voyage! Anyone out of Scotland is probably questioning what the hell I am talking about. Still Game is a BBC Scotland television comedy sitcom based in a fictional part of Glasgow called, Craiglang, about two old men and their friends getting all types of mischief. Still Game was originally a stage show which toured the UK and Canada. Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill are the stars, writers and creators of this hysterical show which ran for six seasons. They returned in 2014 after seven years of absence due to a disagreement between the duo. They returned with a live show which headlined the SSE Hydro in Glasgow for 21 performances. They then returned in February 2017 to the Hydro with Still Game Live 2: Bon Voyage, after a new seventh series on BBC One. The show was gigantic, as was the venue, it was a fantastic set, with brilliant writing and the cast on top form. 

However, after the hysterical performance, I couldn’t help feeling like something was missing, it was the atmosphere, everything just got lost because of how big the place was, the intimacy was lost. Even though they obviously needed a large venue to accommodate the popularity of their show they still could have done a longer run at a theatre like the king’s theatre in Glasgow. It would be more suited there because the show is all about community, within the Hydro it just felt too large especially for something that I would regard as a play. The show was an extravaganza which had a humongous set, with big luscious musical numbers, gigantic comedy entrances but straight after that matinee performance I was imagining how I would lay it out in a smaller venue with a much smaller stage. It would bring with it such a better audience atmosphere.

Nowadays, some production companies and creative teams no longer have intimacy on the top of their lists. Cirque Du Soleil are a fantastic performing production team, their performances are lavish, complex and creative, they focus on performing within large venues but I really would love to see a performance of theirs within a smaller theatre, understandably this would mean that they will generate less revenue if they did the same amount of dates, but it provides our smaller theatres a performance and business. Mrs Browns Boy’s is another television show originally conceived for theatre, which was created by the brilliant Brendan O’Carroll however now after his BBC One sitcom becoming a hit, he is touring his plays of the Irish mammy around the world in areas. We Will Rock You, the smash hit queen musical did an arena tour before it closed within the UK, rather than doing another theatre tour.

All of these shows are turning their head to the smaller venues available within the UK and around the world, they are now looking towards performing their shows within larger spaces to bring in a larger audience, earn more money and have smaller tour runs. Understandably this is because they are popular entertainment productions and will mostly sell out these arenas. However, that’s because most of them are only doing a couple of dates within each city. Why don’t they do what most of the touring musicals, plays and other forms of theatre do? Extend their run, pick a central venue within a city which would be able to accommodate their show, even if that does mean shrinking their scenery, giving them less space and more tour dates. It feels better to sit in a theatre where you can hear the audience loud and clear, see the actors, dancers and performers without having to look at a screen. People are paying extortionate amounts to come and see you perform, the cheapest of these tickets are most likely a mile away from you, way up at the top of the arena, where if you stand up, you feel like you’re going to fall off the edge. And yet they are still £35 meanwhile sitting in the circle of a theatre costs you £40 maximum and to me that is the best seating within a theatre. Therefore, I sincerely hope this is not the future of production venues within the UK.

Understandably some of you readers will disagree and feel that these productions belong within an arena because of the popularity and large production behind each of them which I completely understand. But think of it this way, most of these productions spend millions on their scenery, props, LED screens, lighting, basically all the bells and whistles which add to their production within an arena. Think of all the money their spending for a perfect production within that large space, then think of the fact they could spend much less of that amount within a smaller venue and make the stage look beyond incredible and also making it just much of a spectacle. However, it would be even better! In these arenas, all there is apart from the stage is a large amount of concrete and plastic chairs, in most theatres the auditorium is designed in a vintage or contemporised way which makes the venue it’s self an artistic spectacle. Plus, I’ll take the red fabric seats over the cheap plastic seats any day.

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