Wednesday, 1 August 2012

DRESS CIRCLE: The End Of An Era.

"Tell me it's not true, say it's just a story..."

Dress Circle, Monmouth Street, heralded as "The Greatest Showbiz Shop In The World" is exactly that, and news of it's closure is a devastating loss for the West End. The delightful shop has been trading all things theatre for 33 years and was open for years before some of our longest running musicals, Phantom Of The Opera and Les Miserables. It began in 1977 in the lobby of the Drury Lane Hotel, soon moving to Covent Garden market before taking residence on Monmouth Street. For many, losing Dress Circle will be just as big a deal for London as would the closure of Phantom or Les Mis, musicals that have shaped our West End, just as this shop has. 

I just wanted to reflect on what has made Dress Circle a much loved part of London and why it's uniqueness will be sorely missed. 

The downturn in the economy is to blame, tragically, a shop representing our theatre world is just not big enough to compete with giants such as Amazon and the download practicalities of iTunes. It such a shame, it's not what the public want, it's not what the staff want and so sad that it must close. I'd much rather have a signed cast album than an iTunes download any day, it's much more special and personal.  It is something Dress Circle have specialised in and at no extra cost to the RRP.

(Jill Halfpenny, Alex Gaumond, Sheridan Smith and Duncan James at the Legally Blonde cast album signing.) 

Dress Circle has not only been a promotional tool for the big musicals who often hold cast album signings in-store but for raising the profile of up-and-coming musical talent such as Chris Passey and Tim Prottey Jones, both Midlands talent taking London by storm. This is the shop to give their work a home, somewhere to launch it from, somewhere credible. Stuart Matthew Price brought out his solo album and through Dress Circle was able to sell it to customers who were otherwise unaware of it. 

(Chis Passey (front) and Tim Prottey Jones (far right) with Lauren Samuels, Ross Hunter, Stevie Webb, Simon Lipkin, Zoe Rainey, Jeremy Legat and Allyson Ava-Brown) (Photo by Roy Tan)

Dress Circle is also notably famous for it's stock of show merchandise. Where else can you get a Mary Poppins umbrella from the production which closed in 2008? Dress Circle for me came in most useful when Billy Elliot ran out of t-shirts at the theatre, I really wanted one. I went to Dress Circle and there they were - you could always count on that. I also find it useful for buying my Broadway cast recordings that aren't often released in the UK. It's rare stock is something the shop offers unlike anywhere else. A reasonably priced import of the Sister Act Hamburg cast recording? The 1994 Original UK Tour Little Shop Of Horrors cast recording? Priscilla Queen Of The Desert programme from the Milan production? Without a doubt Dress Circle, unlike anyone else, brings theatre all over the world together in London.

(Barry Manilow, a customer since the early 80's,  CD signing in store) (Photo by Roy Tan) 

Having trouble with finding sheet music for auditions? Dress Circle was also the place to go with an extensive catalogue downstairs. Even West End legend Kerry Ellis says " Dress Circle has been a part of my life for many years from way back when I was buying sheet music for my auditions." The Queen Mother would even telephone order her Noël Coward recordings from the store. 

(Mark Evans signing in store) (Photo by Phill Cowndley)

Musically talented or not so, famous or not so, but enthusiastic about theatre the variety of customers (myself included) will undoubtably miss the store, but perhaps the silver lining is that it will live on, online. The internet is not just for porn Trekkie Monster, but for helping Dress Circle survive long after its Covent Garden store closes its doors. I am a regular visitor to the website and purchase all my new cast recordings and albums from there. Dress Circle's postage is second to none, you don't get such a speedy delivery from Amazon without seriously paying! An online store will not be the same, but I do hope that it will continue to offer signed and rare goods that are difficult or impossible to get anywhere else. 

That is just my account, I'm sure everyone has many other stories to be told about their experiences in-store, and you should share them too. 

To owner, Murray Allan, and to all the staff past and present, thank-you for giving us this wonderful store for so long, to Stuart Matthew Price and James Yeoburn for the benefit gala that helped raise awareness of the store.  

Visit and continue your support. 

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