The recent hype surrounding the upcoming release of Mamma Mia 2 in cinemas may be surprising to some. Indeed, many media outlets have been quite keen to write of musical theatre as the art-form of the older generation, with the number of younger people going to theatres supposedly declining. Young people listen to music and watch films, they don’t want to go and see plays.
Firstly, I want to point out that this is a baseless misconception. A significant number of my fellow students are heavily involved in theatre, in fact I would say it rivals sport as the most popular extracurricular activity in the whole University.
A typical response to this would be to say yes, students enjoy participating in theatre, but they won’t go to watch it. Admittedly, the number of students who frequently go to watch productions is mightily eclipsed by the number of students who listen to music, and I am yet to meet anyone at my University who doesn’t have either Spotify or Apple Music. But this, I would argue, is not down to a lack of interest, rather a lack of access.
Rather than comparing the amount of young theatre-goers to the amount of young music-listeners, I think it is more accurate to compare the former with the number of young people who frequently go to music concerts. I am not talking about local gigs or club events, I mean arena-standard concerts, because this is the closest equivalent to seeing a play in the West End or on Broadway. The disparity then becomes far less considerable, and I know plenty of students who have been to numerous West End shows with their family, but have never been to a music concert in their life. Just because music is a more accessible form of art, due to its ability to be downloaded and streamed in the comfort of one’s own home, it does not mean it is necessarily more relevant to this generation.
The second main point I’d like to make is that West End ticket prices make seeing a play much more of a luxury than it used to be. There has been no attempt to hide the fact that theatre tickets are increasing in price, with a trip to see the likes of Les Miserables or The Lion King setting you back a good £70 a head. In comparison, while the biggest names in music will of course command a similar fee, tickets to one of the biggest music events of the year, Wireless Festival UK, which took place a couple of weeks ago in London, and which boasts some of the biggest names in Hip Hop, including Drake, Big Sean, Post Malone and Stormzy, were sold from the official platform for just over £50.
Theatre risks being shut off from younger audiences due to excessive ticket prices - not because of a lack of interest. The 16-25 Railcard scheme in England offers some West End tickets at reduced prices, but we need more policies like this in order to keep this art-form as relevant as it should be, and as students want it to be.
Do you agree? Would you like to visit the theatre more often, but find yourself restricted by ticket prices? Or do you think it really is just becoming irrelevant to this generation?
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?