What kids don't like about theatre


A run of 16 and 17 year olds have been delivering me short essays pondering the relative popularity of cinema and theatre. Some points strike me as interesting.

Theatre is seen as being for the old, while cinema knows the pulse of what young people want. Life is fast now, and cinema matches that pace: you can see a film on your own schedule, it's all over in two hours, there's no messing about with intervals, you can be straight out in the mall and shopping. (Gone, clearly, is the desire for double-bills - such coups as my own memory of Don't Look Now and The Wicker Man for the price of one ticket won't happen again.)

Cinema is seen as being classless as well. It's comfortable, everyone gets a good seat and clear view, it's within everybody's price range, and there's none of the social strutting of the interval when people are checking out your clothing while having a drink. (An odd thing for me in the USA was this lack of interval drinks, around which UK theatres build their finances. American theatregoers have the interval and wander lost, and there is no extra drink-fuelled buzz to a play's second half.)

Their lists of favourite films are uniformly Hollywood product, and they're amazed and a little chastened to have this pointed out, valiantly trying to come up with some home-grown product they also like; their best plays lists consist largely of musicals. They like the special effects of films, the sheer blaze of the millions of invested dollars they see on screen. They like knowing what they are going to get before going to the cinema - they know what the stars deliver, and best is when they know the book the film has spun out of. Theatre is unwelcoming, part of a different class structure in a city far away.

It was a surprise this week to learn that more books are sold per head of population in Britain than anywhere else in Europe. I'd have expected that feat to have gone to the Dutch or Norwegians, some northern nation with a more obvious literary thirst. I do wonder, though, what those books are. Are they all celebrity bios and film tie-ins? I sense the UK publishing industry is going Hollywood's route - finding out what young people want and supplying it. It's a route I'd be happy to follow as a writer. The enthusiasms of the young can be very engaging, and when they love something they love it well.

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