Leading theatre-makers urge Ed Vaizey to take new writing survey seriously

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Helen Mirren has joined playwright Michael Frayn and London’s Royal Court Theatre artistic director Vicky Featherstone in signing an open letter to culture minister Ed Vaizey urging him to look seriously at the findings of a recent survey on the impact of funding cuts on new writing.

Writers Tom Stoppard and Caryl Churchill and director Mike Leigh have also shown their support for the letter, which refers to the results of In Battalions, an independent survey by playwright Fin Kennedy.

The letter says: “We believe the findings of In Battalions are to be taken seriously. They are representative of a wider trend within our industry. If the next generation of playwrights are not properly supported, this could seriously affect output in a few years’ time, and new plays are vital to the future health of British theatre – not to mention a driver of growth in the economy.”

It adds: “We have been disappointed by your public remarks that there is still ‘no evidence’ and that to say otherwise is ‘rubbish’ and ‘scaremongering’. We call on you to take In Battalions seriously, and to issue its authors with an appropriate, personalised response.”

The report, which surveyed 26 theatre producers, found that more than 60 % of UK theatres and producing companies had cancelled or postponed at least one production since April 2012.

It also found that more than half of those surveyed are now producing fewer new plays than before April 2012.

Kennedy launched the survey last year following a conversation he had with the culture minister in which Kennedy says Vaizey claimed that Arts Council England funding cuts since April 2012 were having “no effect” on theatres and that new plays were “thriving”.

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, said: “Despite the incredibly tough economic times, the government is investing £2.9 billion in the arts over the life of this Parliament. We place huge value on the arts and have demonstrated that by reforming the Lottery to increase arts funding, as well as continuing to support and encourage arts bodies to raise funds from private giving.

“Our cultural organisations are in good shape, they continue to produce quality and challenging work and they continue to attract visitors from across the world to the UK.”