Artistic directors from the UK’s leading regional venues have joined with Olympic opening ceremony director Danny Boyle and National Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner to warn that Britain’s local theatres are facing a “very real” threat to their futures.
The leaders of theatres including Bristol Old Vic, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, Salisbury Playhouse, Chichester Festival Theatre, Bolton Octagon, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Northern Stage and Sheffield Theatres joined together at the National Theatre to warn of the danger they face due to proposed cuts to local and central government investment in the arts.
Speaking at the event, Hytner said: “The network of regional theatres are extraordinary good value, doing extraordinarily good work. I hope that this morning will draw attention to what we risk losing if the very limited and very modest funding which they currently receive is reduced still further.”
Meanwhile, Boyle claimed that credit for the success of the Olympic opening ceremony should be given to regional theatres across the country, as much as those in London, stressing that his “journey to the Olympic opening ceremony began at the Bolton Octagon”, where he once had a holiday job as an usher.
He added: “What [regional theatre] provides is something to believe in. And we must believe in it as well otherwise we’ll lose it… it’s something in our cities and towns that’s nurtured, that’s believed in, that isn’t Wetherspoon’s and Walkabout pubs and [professional footballers] Mario Balotelli and John Terry and people like that, something decent to believe in, something good and nourishing for us all really.”
Some of the theatres present revealed that they were facing as much as 100% cuts in their local authority funding, because councils are being given less money by central government and are finding themselves unable to support local theatres as much as they have before, or at all.
Erica Whyman, chief executive and artistic director of Northern Stage, warned that if proposed cuts were carried out in Newcastle they would “devastate the cultural landscape” of the city. Meanwhile, Sheffield Theatres artistic director Daniel Evans said that his organisation had been hit with a 20% in-year cut to its local funding and was being asked to prepare for further cuts. He warned that the “rich and delicate biosphere” of UK theatre was under threat.
The government has claimed that theatres will be able to plug funding gaps by raising more money from philanthropy. However, Hytner dismissed this as “wishful thinking” and a “smokescreen”.
The government has done next to nothing to encourage what it terms philanthropy. It really is all talk
He said: “It’s easy for the British museum, the Tate and the National Theatre. We are in London, we are handsomely subsidised: philanthropic money follows public money. So, I would like to nail that kind of wishful thinking. The government has done next to nothing to encourage what it terms philanthropy… It really is all talk: 80% of philanthropic money comes to London, 20% to the rest of the country. Please try to uncover a single concrete policy that has arrived over the last two and half years to encourage philanthropy.”
Boyle added: “Modest and sustained investment is really the responsibility of government. And you can see the benefits you get from modest and sustained investment in this infrastructure… that for a government, of whatever hue, is something to consider very, very seriously investing in. And not to leave it at the whim of rich individuals.”
Tom Morris, artistic director of Bristol Old Vic, warned that “the threat is very real” to theatres across the UK, while David Thacker, artistic director of the Bolton Octagon, insisted that the group was not “crying wolf”.
“What we’re talking about is that the kind of theatres we’re passionately committed to are in very, very serious danger at the moment and a small further cut could have a catastrophic effect.”
“I think that we’re here because we fear that we may not all survive,” added Roxana Silbert, artistic director of the Birmingham Rep. “We have lost regional theatres already.”
For more on this story, see next week’s print edition of The Stage.