“Good evening and welcome to the Royal Albert Hall and the Olivier Awards with Mastercard – the flagship event of the theatrical calendar.
It’s a night for celebrating our collective achievements. During the past year, over 15.5 million people attended a West End show – the highest number since records began and the wide array of productions, included 40 new plays and 10 new musicals in SOLT [Society of London Theatre] theatres.
Building work has recently started on the site of the old Astoria on Charing Cross Road – the first new permanent theatre in the West End for 60 years, due to open in 2021 and being developed by Nimax Theatres.
Later this year, two more large scale venues will open at White City and Wembley Park courtesy of Troubadour Entertainment – the latter will be home to the National Theatre’s War Horse in October.
And on December 1, 2018, the restored Alexandra Palace Theatre reopened its doors after 80 years. There is still a great clamour to attend live theatre in the capital.
It’s our responsibility, to make this unique offering available to everyone, putting aside class, colour, race or background and not just in terms of audiences, but also the workforce to create and manage these productions.
A year ago, I stood here and appealed for volunteers from the industry to go into local schools and inspire the future of British theatre.
I am delighted and very proud to report that we surpassed our target of 1,000 ambassadors a few weeks ago. Since the scheme began, 45,000 school kids have benefited from this programme.
We set out our stall, to prioritise areas of the population that were the least culturally engaged, where the arts have not been embedded in those pupils – educational or familial experience. We continue in our attempts to make the workforce – as well as our audience, representative of the population.
And as we strive for more diversity, we must ensure that people from all backgrounds can afford to come and see our shows – so that the theatres being so lovingly renovated by their owners, continue as vibrant palaces of entertainment for decades to come and not only for those with means.
It is my opinion that we need to take a good hard look at ticket pricing across the West End. We cannot get away from the fact that the average cost of a top-price ticket has risen steeply in the past few years.
It’s a familiar argument, that charging more at the top end enables us to have a range of low prices at the bottom – but rarely for the shows in highest demand. We must find a way of making tickets affordable – particularly for the younger generation.
We must guard against a pricing policy which reduces the average household to making a visit to the theatre an annual treat rather than a regular occurrence.
Make no mistake about it. Putting on a live performance of any kind is extremely expensive and also very complex, but for new work to continue to flourish we must encourage our potential audiences to take risks on new productions.
The Michael Grandage Company and Jamie Lloyd’s Pinter at the Pinter season have tremendous, accessible ticket prices for the young and really creative ticket pricing schemes. I certainly don’t want to make the point that nobody is working towards greater accessibility and lower ticket prices.
One significant success over the past few years has been the theatre tax relief, which has brought vital support to the sector enabling producing companies to take more risks developing new work – the benefit of which has been enjoyed nationwide.
However, public funding for the arts in London and throughout the UK remains challenging. Local authority financial support has fallen by £400 million since 2010 – despite the £1.35 billion that the creative industries contribute annually to the economy and their potential to unlock and encourage growth and social cohesion.
There is hard evidence to prove that proper investment in safe spaces and the right leadership would help inner-city kids be creative in theatre, music, film and art and this might turn some away from knife crime, drugs and a hopeless future which underpins this tragic part of our society.
Our repertory theatres continue to deliver outstanding productions. Visionaries behind international successes such as Curious Incident, The Ferryman and Harry Potter have all learned their craft in the subsidised sector.
Audiences the length and breadth of the country deserve to see the high-quality drama being produced in the capital, but touring these productions is rarely possible without financial support from the Arts Council.
The late Sir Peter Hall started his professional career at the Theatre Royal Windsor and at the Oxford Playhouse where he directed, among many others, Ronnie Barker and Billie Whitelaw. Eileen Atkins and Maggie Smith were his acting stage managers back in the day.
This evening we are very pleased to pay tribute to the great name and legacy of Sir Peter Hall, who passed away in September 2017, by renaming the best director award in his honour and you will hear more about this later.
For now, it remains only for me to wish you a thoroughly enjoyable evening and the very best of luck to all the nominees.”