Actors and stage hands are a superstitious breed. Known as 'luvvies', London's West End pack cling blindly to the concept that they are neither bewitched nor blessed by talent or virtue - but only by fate. Before curtain-up, luvvies say 'break a leg' just so they won't. Now, the latest voodoo victim is the Shaftesbury Theatre, haunted not by ghosts or bad luck but by bad reviews, dire shows and poor sales. London's legion of luvvies fear that the theatre - built in 1911 - is cursed after yet another show opened to cries of 'flop' last week. 'I cannot remember the last time I saw as laughably ludicrous a musical as this,' spat the Evening Standard's Nicholas de Jongh. 'The West End, the material and the audience deserve far better than Far Pavilions,' railed the Independent. Theatre-lovers blame the venue. If Far Pavilions fails, it will be yet another expensive musical death in just five years, following illustrious disasters such as Napoleon (three months - 'a non-stop parade of ersatz anthems that go in one ear and out the other without troubling the brain, heart or memory'); Bat Boy (three months - 'some of the cast can sing, but there's nothing to sing about'); Thoroughly Modern Millie (nine months - 'Thoroughly charmless'); and Lautrec (two months). The South African hit, Umoja, was closed early in 2002 by Camden council after complaints about noise by neighbours. Even Peggy Sue Got Married, which got rave reviews, closed in a year. If a show opens at the Shaftesbury, says the new backstage mantra, 'it's the final nail in the coffin'. So, is it cursed? Probably not. Experts point out that the Shaftesbury follows a long line of 'cursed' theatres. In fact, located next to Chinatown, it is too much on the fringe, not artistically, but geographically. And it is too small for musicals but too big for plays. The only way costly musicals make money is with a long run. Sadly, they are so last year. Actually, after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US, London's West End had to change tack, bled dry by the drop in American tourists. Theatres took risks, airing shows unlikely to coax in Americans willing to pay top prices, or the coach party of elderly day trippers. Instead, it lured local culture vultures with bold, cutting-edge plays. Although hit musicals such as Mel Brooks' The Producers, and Mary Poppins help balance the books, the gamble has paid off. Last year, theatre receipts reached a record GBP162 million ($2.4 billion), which equates to 11.9 million tickets sold. Soon, thespians will make their long-awaited return to the West End, in Shakespeare's As You Like It. Break a leg.