I was lucky enough to be invited to the Olivier Awards a couple of weeks ago. This auspicious event celebrates success on stage, both in theatre and musicals. It’s a good excuse to get all dressed up and to linger as long as humanly possible on the red carpet in the forlorn hope of being papped and snapped. Unsurprisingly that didn’t happen, and I was asked to move on.
There’s a lot of back slapping, tearful acceptances, and much clapping. I did try my Nicole Kidman happy walrus clap but it looked even more peculiar than when she attempted it. Maybe she just has an obscure repetitive strain injury from applauding at too many Oscars.
I was struck by just how creative we are. The inventiveness and imagination of some the productions that were recognised was truly impressive. The Oliviers honours not just the shows themselves, and their creators, but also the back of house team; the often unrecognised people who actually make it happen. There, too, lies real creativity and imagination. Together these talented teams help to make British theatre world-class.
It led to thinking about our own sector, and whether or not we are truly creative and original any more. It came in a week when Lord Wolfson, CEO of Next, posted like for like sales 5 per cent down and warned that we are in the age of ‘non stuff’. I’ve been banging on about the importance of the ‘experiential spend’ and when one of the smartest retailers of our times says something like that, then we really need to listen.
Today I read that Debenhams’ new CEO, Sergio Bucher, has identified ‘the experience’ as key to the group’s turnaround strategy.
But what does it mean? More handheld devices from sales staff; a coffee shop in one corner; a nail bar in the other? I think that what is needed is much greater theatre; big stores have the space for big things. Apple’s revamped Regent Street store is the closest to pure retail theatre at present; a vast beautiful vaulted space that you truly want to linger in.
I believe that the tweaks and changes that the big retailers are talking about may just be too little too late. Be bold. Be theatrical.
Simon Carter is the CEO of the eponymous brand and retail stores