Nicholas Hytner, the artistic director of the National Theatre, has reiterated his concerns about the risk to regional theatres posed by funding cuts, warning it could lead to a repetition of theatre closures seen during the Thatcher era.
Hytner spoke out after receiving the Lebedev special award for his contribution to British theatre at this week’s London Evening Standard Theatre Awards.
Addressing the room of industry professionals, which included Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry and Trevor Nunn, he said: “Never forget that between 1979 and 1997 we lost 25% of all the regional theatres in this country, and quite clearly we risk that again.
“It would be counterproductive to cut any more funding to so visibly productive a sector of the creative economy for the sake of tiny savings, which would be vastly outweighed by the huge losses that we risk by making the cuts,” he added.
Hytner said further cuts to the arts would be “completely nuts” because of the economic and cultural benefits that the sector brings to the country.
In particular, he noted the increase in business and “creative buzz” around London’s South Bank compared with 30 years ago, which he said was due to 15 years of sustained investment in the arts.
Hytner said: “We are world leaders [in producing theatre]. There is a spending round coming up and it must be said over and over that London’s cultural scene is a magnet to the rest of the world, and quite apart from the economic riches it delivers it comes with riches that money can’t buy – reputation, pride and an unrivalled source of intellectual and emotional sustenance for everyone who lives here.
“And are we really now being told we are going to risk all this for the sake of some brand of fiscal orthodoxy that is manifestly contradicted by the economic riches we deliver day in, day out?”