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James Graham: ‘Theatres should be forced to stage at least one new play for every three classics’

James Graham pictured at The Stage Debut Awards earlier this year. Photo: Alex Brenner
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Playwright James Graham has claimed publicly funded theatres have a duty to showcase new writing, arguing they should be required to programme at least one debut play for every three classics.

The author of Ink and This House also said venues across the UK needed to become “more joined up” in the way they work together so as to provide more touring opportunities for new plays.

The comments were made at an event celebrating 10 years of the Papatango New Writing Prize at London’s City Hall on November 7.

“[New writing] shows that do critically well in London often struggle to finance a nationwide tour; we can only presume the answer is connecting venues in a way that’s more joined up so you can share your work,” he said.

“I don’t understand why a show that gets loads of buzz at, say, the Bush Theatre isn’t going on next year in Nottingham or Sheffield or Glasgow and vice versa.”

He added: “We actually do have hundreds and hundreds of stages in the country and I think, ultimately, if you are a publicly funded theatre, it should be like affordable housing: if you want to build a skyscraper you are going to have to put some affordable housing there.

“So if you are a publicly funded national institution and you are going to do three plays that are 100 years old, you should be forced to do a play by a debut author.”

Graham also said he wanted to see a West End venue dedicated to new-writing transfers from smaller theatres.

He said: “What happens is you have a show at, say, the Orange Tree [in Richmond] that does amazing work supporting new writing, and no one can buy tickets to it [because it’s sold out]. There’s a four-week run, it stops and there is nowhere to move that show because there isn’t that mid-scale London house to put it in.

“If I was a billionaire I would buy a West End theatre and have it as a place to put all the exciting work that comes from, say, the Hampstead or across the nation to give it a sustainable life, but that currently doesn’t exist.”

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