Lloyd Evans Lloyd Evans

In Scarlett’s shoes

Lloyd Evans on the extraordinary story behind Trevor Nunn’s ‘Gone with the Wind’

Lloyd Evans on the extraordinary story behind Trevor Nunn’s ‘Gone with the Wind’

The heart sinks, almost. The brow droops, a little. A yawn rises in the throat and dies away. Another musical has opened in the West End and, yes, it’s based on a blockbuster movie and, yes, that too was based on a million-selling novel. Those of us who want more new straight plays in the capital and who tire of these revivals-of-revivals are bound to feel a twinge of despair that a song-and-dance version of Gone with the Wind has opened at the New London theatre. Directed by Trevor Nunn too. What could be more tediously predictable?

But when I looked at the show’s promotional campaign I began to realise that even though new musicals are much riskier to produce than new plays they’re nevertheless far easier to market. It’s a cruel paradox (cruel, at least, to supporters of new writing) that the very unoriginality of the show makes it more commercially viable. The audience for a revival is ready-made. You can rely on thousands of twinkly-eyed nostalgics eager to immerse themselves in the warm Jacuzzi of retrospection. This effect is redoubled when the source material happens to be one of the greatest films ever made. And because a musical is more complicated and labour-intensive than a play you have far more points of interest for gossip columnists and feature writers to get their teeth into.

By contrast, when you’re marketing a new straight play you have just two promotional tools. Either the play will have a topical theme that strikes a chord with the public. Or you’ll have a big star in the lead role. Neither tactic is especially powerful. Topicality is a highly perishable commodity and the star strategy, used alone, is apt to look predictable.

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