Page last updated at 03:53 GMT, Thursday, 14 August 2008 04:53 UK

'Tennant' effect hits Stratford

by Sarah Portlock
BBC News, Warwickshire

David Tennant as Hamlet (Pic: RSC)
The RSC production is attracting more visitors to the town

Stratford-upon-Avon, the Warwickshire birthplace of William Shakespeare, has suffered a difficult time in recent years.

Foot-and-mouth disease, the slowdown in US tourists after 9/11, flooding and building work at the Royal Shakespeare Company's main theatre have all led to fears of doom and gloom for the town's tourist industry.

Last month Shakespearience, a tourist attraction devoted to Shakespeare, called in the administrators blaming the credit crunch, a lack of overseas visitors and disruption caused by the redevelopment.

Despite this the town's streets have remained busy and visitors, mostly from the UK, have been flocking in.

And since the opening of the Royal Shakespeare Company's latest production of Hamlet, the town could be said to be enjoying what might be called the "David Tennant effect".

The five-month production, which started earlier this month and stars the popular Doctor Who actor, is sold out with tickets selling at inflated prices on auction websites.

It seems to be having a good effect on the town with visitors travelling to see the production making a day of their stay in the town.

Helen Robson, promotions manager for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, a charity which own five Shakespeare houses in the town, said they were getting "decent" tourist figures after what had been a "trying" few years.

TThe Courtyard Theatre (pic: RSC)
Barriers have been put up at the Courtyard Theatre's stage door

She said: "Certainly at the Birthplace Trust we have people coming in, especially women, who say we are here to see Hamlet and so we thought we would come and find out more about what it's all about.

"I think the RSC is riding the crest of a wave with David Tennant.

"The production is drawing in people from further afield than normal so people are spending more time in the town and going on the Stratford trail.

"They are coming in for an evening show and spending the day and possibly overnight in town."

In general the town has not been seeing too much evidence of the so-called credit crunch, she said.

"The credit crunch has affected overseas tourists more so than in the UK," she said.

Figures up

"It's not that US visitors are staying away completely, it's that they are not arriving in coachloads as they once did.

"But we are seeing a lot more local visitors, exploring what's on their own doorsteps."

South Warwickshire Tourism, the area's tourist board, said visitor figures had picked up this year but agreed the production of Hamlet was having an even more positive effect.

Chief executive Phil Hackett said: "It is difficult to measure the 'Tennant effect' because the RSC have had a number of record seasons in a row.

Shakespeare's Birthplace (pic: Birthplace Trust)
Hamlet-goers are visiting the Shakespeare Birthplace

"But I would argue that as Hamlet has been sold out since May this year that there is definitely a positive impact."

The RSC said all its productions were doing well, not just Hamlet.

Despite its tourism success, civic leaders say the town still needs to start pulling in the foreign tourists again.

And the town needs something, other than Shakespeare, to bring them in.

So says Les Topham, the leader of Stratford District Council.

He said "a lot of people are not Shakespeare fans but they are Stratford fans.

"They come to see the river and the town. Of course we would like more visitors and we would like them to stay longer.

"Stratford is a wonderful place but could do with a facelift. I would like to see more gardens and a place to hold more entertainment and variety shows."

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