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Gypsy producer Michael Harrison: ‘We should question restoration levy’

Michael Harrison. Photo: Pamela Raith Michael Harrison. Photo: Pamela Raith
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West End producer Michael Harrison has suggested some theatres are misusing the restoration levy and not spending it on refurbishment.

The levy, charged by a variety of theatres across the UK, is a fee added to ticket prices that aims to generate funds to restore older buildings to a stable and functional state.

Speaking at the Protecting Theatres conference organised by the Theatres Trust, Harrison – who has produced Gypsy, Mrs Henderson Presents and The Bodyguard in the West End – said that myriad extra fees and charges were making ticket prices too expensive.

He continued: “I think the restoration levy is something that we should all be questioning. I think audiences should be questioning it, and I think producers should be questioning it. Because I don’t think we’re always seeing it.”

The producer cited West End theatres run by Delfont Mackintosh among those he thought were getting properly restored, as opposed to just minor cosmetic changes.

“The key word is restoration. Restoration shouldn’t be wear and tear, it shouldn’t be fixing the blocked toilets, it shouldn’t be paint. Restoration is, in my view, and I think in the view of the public, to restore old buildings,” he said

Harrison, who produces the annual pantomime at the Newcastle Theatre Royal, also spoke highly of the venue’s recent £5 million refurbishment, which made use of the £1.75 levy customers are charged per ticket.

“In that community, no-one ever complains about the restoration levy because they can see where it’s gone on the auditorium,” Harrison said.

He also claimed there were modern buildings that “aren’t even 10 years old” that add a restoration levy to their ticket prices.

The producer added: “I’m all for protecting theatres, but I’m not sure that’s the right way of protecting audiences, because it comes across as a rip-off in an already expensive activity.”

Earlier in the panel discussion Harrison argued swollen ticket prices were “a sore point for any producer” because extra charges were making them too expensive.

“The base-level ticket is actually probably as it should be. But above that, by the time you’ve paid the booking fee and the service charge, by the time you’ve paid to print the ticket, by the time you’ve paid to have a ticket in the first place, by the time you’ve put the restoration levy on, it’s becoming too expensive,” he said.

Harrison was speaking about the needs of theatres and producers with Runaway Entertainment producer Tristan Baker, English Touring Theatre director Rachel Tackley and Bush Theatre artistic director Madani Younis.

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