The Green Room: What will be the effect of Brexit on the arts?

The cast of My Country, a verbatim piece in response to the Brexit vote, at the Dorfman, National Theatre, earlier this year. Photo: Tristram Kenton The cast of My Country, a verbatim piece in response to the Brexit vote, at the Dorfman, National Theatre, earlier this year. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…

Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA award-winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

John Pepper is 31 and has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National Theatre and in radio, television and film.

Adam Lovett is a 45-year-old actor who has appeared in Oscar-winning films and in theatre at the RSC, National Theatre and in the West End


Peter Quince is a 71-year-old actor working in theatre and television

Jenny Talbot, 39, has nearly 20 years of experience in West End and touring musical theatre with occasional forays into TV, film and plays

Vivian Lee is 38 and has played leading roles at the National, the RSC and the Royal Court, alongside regular TV appearances


JennyI have absolutely no idea. Does anyone have any idea what Brexit is going to be? Apart from hideous?

Adam Yes, the biggest problem is that nobody knows the effect it will have. And that prolonged uncertainty is going to be crippling. I suspect government finances are going to be severely stretched over the next decade because of Brexit, so I fear that cuts to arts funding are inevitable.

Vivian It will limit vision. If there is a restriction on artists coming in to work or to train, we get a homogenous picture of an isolated island. I worry about touring, in and out. I know these aren’t things that might be immediately affected by Brexit, but what culture will it create? What will be the atmosphere after it all?

John It will affect theatre in terms of funding. There will be less money generally and so areas deemed ‘less essential’ will be stripped.

Adam If we cut ourselves off from the rest of Europe, we become reliant on the British government, which has never been known for its passionate defence of the arts.

Albert It will be used as an excuse for any change in arts funding. We will be told there is no money due to Brexit, and will be told there is no investment due to Brexit.

Vivian Also, we are limiting a part of who we are. We are European.

Adam Killing freedom of movement is surely going to make it more of a hassle to employ British actors, who will now need visas and work permits to film in the European Union.

Peter Yes, it will certainly be more difficult to act abroad. For example, those English theatres in Vienna, Frankfurt and so on.

Adam There go my dreams of taking my one-man show to the Berliner Ensemble…

Jon Most musical theatre specialists I know have done a German touring production of something at some point, too, so it’s not just the specifically English-speaking theatres.

Jenny A lot of drama/music colleges will be affected as they have a lot of EU students.

Peter Orchestras and opera companies have a lot of foreign workers, too – one orchestra has already made plans to move out of the UK.

Jon It’s also worth considering a post-Brexit relationship with Ireland. A lot of British actors work at theatres in Dublin and a lot of Irish actors will be less likely to relocate here.

John Looking at it from a Brexiteers’ point of view (which I’m really not, just for discussion), would it open up work for UK actors in the UK?

Peter I can’t see any reason why it should lead to more work for British actors, John. We’re not like plumbers – competing for work with Poles.

John I completely agree, Peter, I’ve never felt it at all, but thought I’d put the question out.

Vivian Opening work for UK actors? I don’t know, but I feel it’s going to have a huge influence on the type of stories we tell. And I worry about the minor breakthroughs that have been happening with diversity – in casting as well as our stories.

Jenny Yes, Vivian, that’s my concern, that the stories won’t be as wide-ranging and challenging. I also think theatres will struggle to engage with audiences. I imagine – perhaps wrongly – that a fair few of the National Theatre audience are Brexiteers, and there must be ways of reaching that 52% of the population.

Jon It’s interesting that the NT has been pretty much the first theatre to engage with Brexit, with My Country. Apparently some of the people who provided the verbatim voices for that show (including pro-Brexit ones) came to the show in its various touring venues.

Jenny Yes. I heard a talk on the radio with Rufus Norris very soon after the Brexit vote, speaking about how there was a section of the British public that theatre was failing. He sounded like he was going to try to change their minds one play at a time.

Peter I’m not sure you’re right about the NT, Jenny. Remember that London was overwhelmingly remain.

Jenny Yes, Peter. But there will be some investors and supporters who are Leavers. It’s quite jarring when you come across people in the arts who are liberal but Brexiteers, but there are some… a minority though, I know.

Peter There’s also the danger of big, international productions such as Game of Thrones not locating in the UK because of work permit problems.

Albert It may make it more difficult for large, commercial productions based in the European Union to use English actors, but then as far back as I can remember European companies have preferred English actors for commercials, for example, so perhaps we might not notice any difference.

Peter Equity has produced an interesting paper on Brexit. I expect it’s on their website.

Jon Yes, it is – it’s from immediately after the referendum, so some of the information may be out of date, but there are a lot of links there to more detailed articles.

Vivian Art never thrives when it’s restricted. There definitely will be some sort of restriction, if not legally, then certainly culturally.

John I’m not sure about that. Some of the best art is produced out of adversity. I’m not advocating that it’s a good thing, but art always finds its way through.

Peter Yes, remember Harry Lime’s speech about Switzerland and cuckoo clocks.

John Of course, the poorest always suffer and artists from poorer backgrounds will be the worst hit.

Jon It sounds as if we’re pretty worried about the whole thing. Are there any potential positives for people in our line of work?

Albert Perhaps it will give us some new terminology. An exit stage left could become a Lexit, an exit stage right could become a Rexit and an exit through the audience would still remain a risk.