Theatrical lore says “the show must go on”, but even a trouper like Wendell Pierce knew the game was up when part of the ceiling fell on patrons enjoying his performance in Death of a Salesman at the Piccadilly theatre last Wednesday. They should all go to the pub together, he suggested.
This duty to keep going, or at least to keep smiling, in the face of adversity is an admirable showbusiness tradition and, sure enough, next day supportive arts pundits took up the challenge of metaphorically entertaining the crowd while the safety curtain was swiftly brought down.
“Such things hardly ever happen,” said some, adding that “no one was seriously hurt”, unlike six years ago at the nearby Apollo theatre. Others pointed out the huge private investment in these crumbling venues since then.
Backstage camaraderie like this is understandable in a milieu where appearances are everything and which, by its nature, lives in a constant state of financial peril.
The restoration of the West End should not be left entirely to theatre owners such as the Piccadilly’s Ambassador Theatre Group or to rich impresarios such as Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber, however keen they are. London’s theatreland is more than a handy draw for tourists. It should be considered an international heritage site and, since British film and drama are key planks of the economy, renovations must have systematic government support.
Of course, most trips to see a show do not end in a cloud of plaster, but there should be no reason for the eyes of a single audience member to stray up apprehensively to the chandelier while an actor is trying to transport them.
• Vanessa Thorpe is the Observer’s arts and media correspondent
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