Report: 75% of small London theatres need significant upgrades

The Finborough Theatre in London. Photo: Matthew Turner
The Finborough Theatre in London. Photo: Matthew Turner
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Three quarters of the capital’s small theatres require significant upgrade or renovation, with most having raised no money at all towards the necessary refurbishment work, according to a report published this week by the London Assembly.

It recommends the Greater London Authority sets up a capital fund for the city’s small theatres, to help venues lever in support from philanthropic sources.

The report, which follows a survey of London’s 105 smaller theatres, also reveals that the majority of respondents claim their ticket sales have increased in the past year, with only 20% saying they have decreased.

However, almost half of respondents feel “insecure” about their financial future, with one in five feeling “very insecure”. Around a third of theatre managers responding to the survey warn that their venues are at risk of sale in the foreseeable future, and 40% believe there is a risk of their theatre being converted for another use.

The report was undertaken by the London Assembly’s cross-party economy committee, and was led by Labour assembly member Tom Copley.

He told The Stage that as property prices in the capital continue to increase, small theatres have found themselves under threat, as landlords look to turn the spaces into flats or commercial offices. Copley said theatres should look to list themselves as community assets to prevent this from happening.

He added: “I’m very clear that I don’t want to see this report just sit on the shelf and gather dust, which is why we’ve done it in the form of an action plan we want to see implemented. This is something that I’ll be following up and pursuing the mayor on – and, indeed, the other bodies we make recommendations to.

“Thankfully, unlike the rest of the country, London’s small theatres are doing quite well at the moment, but there are all of these looming obstacles – like the issues around development [and change of use] – that could put that at risk. They are such an important part of the London theatre scene that we need to protect them or we could find that the success we’ve had in recent years is reversed. We need to be vigilant for that.”

The report, Centre Stage – Supporting Small Theatres in the Capital, focuses on venues across Greater London with 300 seats or fewer. It makes a string of recommendations to improve the health of London’s small-scale theatre sector.

One of its other suggestions is that the Mayor of London should offer up available space in City Hall to theatre groups needing places to rehearse and encourage disused offices and empty shops in London to do the same. Among other recommendations are that Visit London should give more exposure on its website to shows at small theatres, and that Transport for London should use expired advertising space to help promote small-scale productions.

It also calls for the mayor to appoint an ambassador for small theatres to help make sure the report’s recommendations are carried out.

Meanwhile, the publication recognises that low rates of performer pay is one of the major challenges facing the sector. It says: “We believe there is significant scope to improve the standard working conditions and to clarify how profit-share arrangements are used.”

Full details of the report, which covers theatres ranging from the unfunded Finborough Theatre to Arts Council England national portfolio organisations such as the Gate in Notting Hill and amateur theatres including the Questors in Ealing, are available at the website www.london.gov.uk/theatreplan. Its authors have called on London mayor Boris Johnson to respond to the report’s recommendations by the end of October.