Stay inside the comfort zone or step outside it?

There is a lot of value to be found in the use of analogy in writing. It’s an effective tool for aiding description and understanding, as well as encouraging deeper thought about a subject. I often use it in my writing; for example, I’ve referred to the theatre industry as a wheel, with the West End serving as the hub and fringe/regional theatre as the spokes reaching out from it. The wheel analogy also serves me when speaking about the cyclical nature of the business in regards to the ever-changing ‘in-out’ production rotation.

Food also provides a great variation of opportunities for analogy, and I’m about to use it to serve my purpose here.

You’re going out to dinner tonight. Decision made. The next decision to make now is where to go? You’ve heard from a friend about this new restaurant that’s just opened up. It’s supposed to be fantastic and you’ve been wanting to go and see for yourself, but on the other hand…what if you don’t like it? If you try it and don’t enjoy the experience then you’ve wasted your money and your evening, so maybe you should just go to your favourite restaurant again? After all, you know you like it. So what do you do?

Or try this one.

You’ve come home late from work and really can’t be bothered to cook, so decide to get take-out. You settle on Chinese. Looking through the menu, you see all these dishes you’ve never tried and consider ordering some of them. It’s good to try new things right? Then again…what if you don’t like it? These dishes might sound good, but you could spend out on them and then find they’re actually not as appealing as you thought, leaving you out of pocket and dissatisfied. Perhaps it would be better to play it safe and just go with the usual order? After all, you know you like it. So what do you do?

These two analogies illustrate the dilemma between whether you should stick with what you know or try something new, and not just in regards to food. It’s the same choice many theatre fans face when deciding to see a West End musical.

London’s West End is home to a vast array of shows, such of which are long-term residents and others recent newcomers to the neighbourhood. Variety is one of the best aspects of the West End, but it can pose something of a problem to a fan who is trying to choose which one to see. They could take a chance on a new show, which they’ll either love or hate, or they could go with the sure-win and revisit an old favourite.

So what do you do?

There are many fans who return to the same show again and again, perfectly happy to walk down a familiar route without ever tiring of the views (see how I used analogy again there?). Everyone has a favourite; mine is The Phantom of the Opera, which I find I only love more with every visit. A show like Phantom is always a safe bet, it’s been playing in the West End for more than a quarter of a century for a reason. If you’re not sure what to see, long-runners such as Les Miserables, Wicked, The Lion King and Billy Elliot are the safe choice as a good time is practically guaranteed. For those who have limited funds, this is an important consideration as nobody wants to spend money on a show and then not enjoy it. This is especially true for the fans who don’t get to visit the theatre often. A trip to the West End is a big deal to them, and if that rare opportunity is squandered on a show they find they don’t like, then they walk away feeling hugely disappointed and as though they’ve thrown their money away.

Regular theatre-goers, on the other hand, can afford to gamble with their choices. A new show carries the risk of the unknown, but for a fan who visits the West End multiple times a week/month, it’s a lower risk as it is far easier to shrug off a disappointing experience when there are plenty of other chances coming up to redeem it. Some even prefer to take chances on new shows, making a point of sampling every dish on the menu and ready to embrace both the bad and the good. Variety is the spice of life…

The war between familiar and new is one that wages within the industry itself, in addition to West End audiences. I long ago declared myself as an advocate of new writing and firmly believe that the West End should be more open to it; I was re-listening to the studio cast recording of Christopher J. Orton and Robert Gould’s Welsh musical, My Land’s Shore, today in fact, and would still love to see it play in the West End one day. The new and unknown is risky business though, I know this, and you can’t blame producers for reviving an old favourite or transferring a popular Broadway show over here. It’s also why the West End is home to so many jukebox musicals and film-adapted musicals.

There is safety in sticking with what you know, of course, but the downside is that you may potentially miss out on something you’d love through fear of trying something new. There really is no right or wrong though. You can either stay inside your comfort zone or try stepping outside it every now and again. The choice is a personal one at the end of the day and no-one can make it for you. It’s certainly good to embrace both the familiar and the new however. Enjoy the shows you love as often as possible, but also put yourself out there to discover new ones you could love just as much, if not more. Life is an adventure, and theatre should be too.

By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25

Tuesday 8th September 2015