Apart from the elegant baritone of Craig Berry in the lead, I didn’t think much of It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s … Superman the Musical: the sets looked cardboard and so did much of the acting, and the production felt clumsy rather than amusingly quirky. There’s one decent song ‘You’ve Got Possibilities’ otherwise the show has few and you’d struggle to identify it as from the same composer as Annie. Perhaps four gin and tonics weren’t quite enough to get it? But during the longeurs I had time to finger the flyers announcing it as a ‘West End Transfer’ from the Old Rose and Crowne pub theatre.

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When is a ‘West End Transfer’ not a ‘West End Transfer’?

When a producer from Walthamstow simply hires a venue in WC2 for ten days of extra performances?

 

We need to get some semantics sorted, here. A ‘West End Transfer’ or – should you be so lucky as Titanic from Southwark Playhouse a ‘Broadway’ one – is when some hot-shot producer from London or New York sees your show in its above-the-pub or under-the-railway-arch simplicity and spots enough potential to put big money behind it and give it a bigger and better home, usually for a fairly open-ended run.  But does it ever happen?

For sure it works regularly for well-funded producing houses like the Menier Chocolate Factory, with successful musicals like La Cage aux Folles going to the Playhouse for fourteen months, or Merrily We Roll Along to the Pinter, and there have been a few honourable pub-fringe transfers for example Dream of the Dog and State Fair from the Finborough to Trafalgar Studios or, The Mystery of Edwin Drood from the Landor to the Arts Theatre, but neither of these have huge auditoriums or represent a multi-million-pound investment for producers.

I ran a quick straw poll today among a dozen independent theatre bloggers and they could only recall one show from a fringe pub venue transferring directly to a 1000-seater West End theatre, the Old Red Lion’s Importance of Being Earnest which filled a twelve day gap at the Haymarket in early 2012 after The Lion in Winter and before One Man, Two Guv’nors settled in for what felt like ever.

As a ‘West End’ theatre is (legally) only one of the 40 houses covered by the Society of London Theatres umbrella – the Arts and Traf Studios are included, but the basement Leicester Square Theatre is decidedly not.

Its position looks as though it should be the former crypt of the Notre Dame de France church since it runs more or less underneath their building, but it was originally created from a World War II bomb site as a popular music venue like the Cavern Club in Liverpool. Being low-ceilinged and largely flat-floored it’s one of the least suitable venues for theatre in London and its comparatively large seating capacity, over-wide auditorium and shallow narrow stage drown most proscenium-arch sets.

Odd choice really, because Walthamstow has a great reputation thanks to its resident director Aaron Clingham and turned out some seriously fine productions recently including a stunning Into The Woods.