Today was set to be a huge day for the Leicester Curve; financially it still was. Whether it has damaged its public reputation in the process is up for discussion.
It was slightly longer than two weeks ago when the Curve announced that they will launch a new UK tour of Les Miserable thanks to their growing relationship with Sir Cameron Mackintosh. It came with much fanfare and huge support from Curve social media interactors. The original announcement post achieved an impressive 542 shares and 1100 reactions on Facebook alone.
Then, became a push to drive increased membership sales by announcing a pre-sale date and some discounts for a limited number of price bands. Today, 12th January 2018 was the date when the rest of the UK were able to book tickets as cheap as £10 and that’s when you could hear the people sing, the song of angry patrons.
As soon as the clock hit midday, the site crashed, avid fingertips around the country all trying to get the same thing. It was inevitable almost. Within four hours the sold out message was displayed. It was no easy ride for those trying to purchase online, with server down messages alongside a queue system that redirected you to an out of date we’re updating the site message.
People purchasing inside the box office mentioned they had a wait but welcomed gestures such as free hot drinks. It wasn’t long before the complaints on social media started. Storms of people saying a similar thing. It was like the next batch of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child tickets were released!
It concluded with a final joint press release from Chief Executive Chris Stafford and Artistic Director Nikolai Foster. They admitted their systems were not good enough and promised to look to the future. They said
‘We completely understand the frustrations from customers who had difficulties purchasing their tickets today. At Curve, we want everyone to be able to enjoy visiting our theatre to watch the incredible productions we have programmed and we are truly sorry that customers have been left so disappointed on this occasion. ‘
Is sorry enough? Or is this something the Curve is going to have to deal with now it wishes to house some of the largest mega hits of the West End.
Earlier this year the Curve attracted criticism from industry due to an increase in commercially minded programming. Mark Shenton from the Stage wrote
‘Curve is funded to take risks, not play it safe with titles that are perceived to be popular. Public money comes with other responsibilities, including pushing artistic boundaries and expanding diversity.’
It was therefore interesting to see the following posted by a patron on Facebook who was frustrated by their inability to purchase tickets today:
‘Very sad that we visit the Curve as much as possible yet a lot of the tickets will have gone to people who live further afield or haven’t visited before and that the more money you have gives you a better chance of getting a ticket.The general public are the ones that help keep the theatre running yet always last on big productions’
It is understandable, in order to balance the books large regional houses need to house both new and inventive productions. However, over the past 12 months, both Matilda and Les Mis at the Curve have sold out within a couple of hours. People are going to be left disappointed which anchors of a season being inaccessible for a lot of people.
If the Curve continues to push their membership scheme as the way to guarantee tickets for their large productions they risk losing the very people who pay to see their new and far riskier work. Many on their social media channels have already sighted Manchester and Birmingham as places they will look to book instead of their local. It surely isn’t right that the community it should represent is now been driven away?
Perhaps this debate is one that will grow as regional theatres battle with attracting both local and national arts funding. At the same time, management in our theatres need to put their community and their regular patrons at the heart of what they do. Pushing them to spend £30-£50 a year just to secure tickets to shows may not be the best way to do that.