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Government arts policy is ‘savage’, says playwright Simon Stephens

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Olivier award-winning playwright Simon Stephens has criticised the government’s arts policies as “poisonous, destabilising, savage and deliberate”.

The writer, whose adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has just opened in the West End, called on the industry to be more “defiant” and fight back against cuts to the arts, in particular those affecting regional theatres.

Earlier this month, Sheffield City Council announced a 20% (£106,000) cut to Sheffield Theatres’ annual £529,000 grant in the next financial year, while Stoke-on-Trent City Council is to reduce its annual grant of £67,500 to the New Vic in Staffordshire by £23,000. Meanwhile, Moray Council in Scotland has announced it is to cut its entire arts budget, and Newcastle announced 50% cuts to its arts funding.

Speaking to The Stage, Stephens claimed the current government would be “shamed” by history, and that people would look back on its policies with “a sense of incredulity, disbelief and horror”.

“It’s very difficult to make art when you are governed by a government that distrusts the arts and artists. It’s not quite as difficult as it is to be poor in a country where you’re governed by a government that hates poor people, but difficult nevertheless,” he said.

Stephens added: “We need to galvanise ourselves and be more defiant. We need to speak out whenever we can, and we need to clarify to the government just how poisonous and destabilising and savage and deliberate their policies are. Conservatives have always hated art because [to them] art has always been the art of conservation.”

The writer’s comments come as The Stage, in partnership with the Theatrical Management Association and Equity, launches My Theatre Matters!, a campaign aimed at galvanising support for theatres across the UK.

Backstage union BECTU has also spoken out against cuts, with its general secretary Gerry Morrissey calling on the West End to do more to support “regional counterparts”.

“It’s hard to find a long-running successful production that didn’t start somewhere in the nations and regions of the UK,” he said. “West End producers need to give something back to local theatres that have directly contributed to their profitable businesses.”

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