Dress Circle, the long-running musical theatre shop in Covent Garden, was at the centre of controversy in 2011 when a benefit gala was staged to help the struggling business amidst financial difficulties. Many people felt that the gala, held at Her Majesty’s Theatre and featuring a host of West End talent, could have been for the benefit of a worthier cause; raising funds for a charity instead of a business which, in their opinion, should perhaps have been doing more to help themselves. Many people, on the other hand, answered these critics by declaring that Dress Circle was an ‘institution’ and thoroughly deserved to be supported in any and which way.
Whichever side of the fence people fell on, it’s safe to say that no-one wanted to see the shop forced to close its doors – unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening. A statement was posted on the Dress Circle website this week announcing that they will close in two weeks time on 15th August 2012: “Over the past months we have tried in vain to negotiate with our landlord to move our shop into smaller and more cost effective premises. The cost of keeping Dress Circle open in the current location is too high, and it has become apparent that we will not be able to dispose of our current lease. The downturn in the economy has also taken its toll on us, as well as the ever changing way that people are buying music.”
Dress Circle first appeared on Monmouth Street in the late 1970’s and has become hugely popular with musical theatre fans over the years, selling a wide range of cast recordings, sheet music and memorabilia, as well as hosting a large number of live performances and album signings from musical theatre writers/singers. ‘The longest-running showbusiness and musical theatre shop in the world’ has been feeling the strain for some time, and the recent campaign to keep people out of London during the Olympics hasn’t helped things to improve. The Dress Circle gala may have been successful with the audience who came to see it, but as Murray Allan, owner of Dress Circle for 17 years, explained in a recent interview: “Financially it just wasn’t enough to save us, unfortunately.”
Theatre fans will still be able to buy Dress Circle merchandise online through their website, which the store plans to upgrade and expand. Still, I can’t help remembering that classic saying: “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” – I think a lot of people are going to miss its constant presence as they walk through Covent Garden. Aside from the theatres and ticket selling booths situated throughout London’s West End, there isn’t much else in town to represent musical theatre, and Dress Circle was a great place for fans of this art genre to gather together and discuss their shared love whilst shopping there. I’ve supported friends at their album launches there and met others at the same time, taken my daughter to meet Ramin at a signing… Whatever people’s opinions are regarding the way the business was handled, the fact remains that 15th August 2012 will be a sad day for musical theatre fans indeed.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Tuesday 2nd August 2012