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The Green Room: Is theatre in the UK too centred on London?

Photo: Shutterstock Photo: Shutterstock

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

Albert_Parker

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

Annie Walker is 25. Since graduating from drama school, she has worked predominantly in regional theatres and is also a writer and street performer

Vivian Lee is 38 and has played leading roles at the National, the RSC and London’s Royal Court, as well as regular TV appearances

Peter Quince, 72, works 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

 

Jenny I think it’s definitely perceived to be by the press, etc. But when you work regionally you discover these incredible theatre hubs exist everywhere. It’s lovely and should be celebrated more.

Vivian Yes, it is too centred on London.

Annie I think it is.

Peter Absolutely, it is. Too many actors are unwilling to leave London. They’d rather sit out of work, waiting for a telly job. And agents encourage that.

Albert Commercial theatre is. And there’s no reason it shouldn’t be, as London is a world market city that attracts millions of people to the UK. But we are very lucky with the depth of stuff we have all over the country – even though it’s less than we used to have.

Vivian I lived in Manchester for a few years and it was heartbreaking. As soon as I moved there the meetings stopped. People get hired in London for regional jobs. As soon as you are local you don’t get seen. It’s stupid.

Albert People seem to forget it’s called ‘showbusiness’. If you are an agent, of course you prefer your client to wait until they get something that pays decently.

Annie I live outside of London now (and am much happier as a result), but also I think there’s an undercurrent of ‘Will it transfer to London?’ and ‘Look at us, we’re going to London for a night at a show’.

Albert I think that’s also the case, Annie, for shopping. People say we’re going up to London to shop in the West End.

Jon It’s interesting that both Keswick and Pitlochry have been experimenting with short London/Home Counties runs after their main seasons. Presumably that’s to incentivise a wider pool of actors?

Albert It’s a treat, just as commercial theatre is. Yes, we are very lucky in London that we have more theatres per square mile than anywhere else in the country, but then again we also have to cope with the population that sustains that amount of venues and all that entails.

Annie It’s important for quality theatre to be accessible to everyone all over the UK, not just London.

Jenny The Wales theatre scene is really booming, as is the Scottish, with their respective national theatres.

Peter Too many actors spend time thinking about the next job rather than the current one. So they’d rather do a job at a small pub theatre in London than a good part in Bolton – when they might get real pleasure out of the job in Bolton.

Albert Well, they might get pleasure out of the job, but would they get pleasure out of Bolton?

Vivian They might. But digs are generally awful, as is touring and being away from home.

Peter The key is to concentrate on discovering and enjoying the place you’re in rather than mourning your absence from London.

Albert Yes, but if your surroundings are shit, it can be hard to believe in the play and enjoy it.

Vivian I always feel when I’m away from my home, wherever that is, that life is on hold somewhat. So if my home is London, I prefer to do work that allows me to stay at home.

Peter I’ve had really good times touring.

Jon I love touring, but I preferred it when I was single. Nowadays, if I have a not-great show, it’s hard to lie in a single bed in someone’s spare room and not think, ‘Remind me why I’m not with my husband?’

Vivian Exactly.

Peter Being away from home is more fun if you are single. A nice cast can become your family.

Jon It’s almost sounding as if the responsibility is on actors for more of us to work outside London. But surely there’s action the wider industry could take too?

Annie Luckily, there are great regional theatres. But yes, I’ve found they tend to cast more in London – there’s more struggling actors there, more choice.

Jon Is the answer for theatre outside London to be more committed to casting locally, then?

Annie Yeah. I think if agents and casting directors are too lazy to look further afield than London, then the industry is going to shrink and become very dull. The latest fad is to be diverse in casting and pick people from all classes, so travel further than your doorstep.

Peter I don’t think theatres should only cast locally, but it should certainly be an integral part of the process – not this snobbish idea that only London actors are any good.

Annie I think more performers would work outside of London, but they’re aware people don’t come to shows unless it’s got incredible reviews or a star name.

Albert I don’t think ‘I live in Sheffield, so please can I work in Sheffield?’ is reason enough for any theatre to employ an actor. It’s ‘Can you put bums on seats in Sheffield?’ – that’s what matters.

Vivian Of course. But if you live in Sheffield, you should be seen if you are good and have a decent CV. It does feel like even if you live in Sheffield you have to lie and say you live in London for a greater chance to be seen in Sheffield.

Jon Or that you’d have to travel to London to audition for a show in Sheffield.

Annie It’s whether you can do the job the best out of everyone they’ve seen. That’s what should get you the job, not where you live or don’t live.

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