Trafalgar Square is the physical heart of the West End: a great public square where Londoners routinely gather to protest or celebrate. And the spiritual heart of the West End is the glorious collection of theatres that run through it and provide London with one of its most important and internationally celebrated features. Now this weekend Trafalgar Square is, for 7th year, providing a home for a free celebration of London theatre called West End Live.
Theatre usually comes at a price -- across the UK, theatres took over £1billion at the box office last year -- but for this glorious weekend, it's all free.
As Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatres, puts it, "It's the biggest free arts festival in Europe." Over half a million visitors are expected across the weekend: "It's a very valuable promotion for the West End -- not just for the theatre but as a place. And we know that it encourages people to see shows, either buying tickets immediately or after they've had a taste of what's there."
The event was originally founded in 2006 in Leicester Square, when Robert Davis of Westminster Council came up with the idea of a cross-promoted theatre event between the Council and SOLT. (Westminster has the largest concentration of West End theatres, but Camden, Southwark and Lambeth Councils also have theatres in their districts). But its popularity soon outgrew Leicester Square and seven years ago it was moved to Trafalgar Square.
The costs of staging the event are raised commercially and through sponsorship. SOLT takes the lead in all the programming of the events on stage. "Pretty much every show comes -- every year we have the age-old crowd favourites like Les Mis, Phantom of the Opera and Mamma Mia!, but there's also always new stuff, too, that have not been done before, like 42nd Street, An American in Paris and Bat out of Hell this year.
A selection of shows playing at this weekend's West End Live
The public have a chance to get a taster of every show in town. "It's good for accessibility, young audiences and new audiences to see what's there." And its all for free: "We know that the average price in the West End is now a bit over £40 a ticket, so this is a great free event to let people experience bits of theatre that they may not otherwise."