Daniel Evans: Why can’t I speak out on Brexit? Theatre is inherently political
An acquaintance recently shared with me some misgivings. He deemed it inappropriate for a highly respected theatre director to appear on BBC Radio 4, espousing his views on Brexit and its potential repercussions.
He summarised: theatre directors should stick to what they’re good at, not intervening in national politics; no one cares what they think; they should remain impartial. I couldn’t agree.
In its broadest sense, politics governs how we live our lives. We are citizens of a state and agree to live by the laws of that state, which are upheld by our governing institutions, overseen by our representatives in parliament. In this sense, politics (like power) is ubiquitous and inescapable.
One of the functions of art is to encourage us to reflect on how we live our lives and to make us better understand our own world and each other through the telling of stories. As theatremakers, therefore, our jobs are inextricably linked to politics and power. The choices we make – conscious or otherwise – to accept a part, to depict a certain character, to agree to a deal or how we choose to run a rehearsal room reveal our values as individuals or as collectives. It’s impossible to remain impartial. Even in our inaction.
I feel very proud when I hear one of our artistic leaders taking it upon themselves to speak on behalf of the artistic community on matters that impinge on the artistic life of the nation. Be it Rufus Norris at the National Theatre, or Nicholas Serota during his time at the Tate.
These leaders share a deep sense of humanity, openness and generosity and, by dint of their experience, we should listen when they speak. They each espouse common values: art knows no borders. We will continue to seek opportunities to learn from and collaborate with our fellow artistic communities throughout the EU and all over the world, even if UK laws post-Brexit make it harder to do so.
More recently, another acquaintance asked me how Chichester Festival Theatre might be affected by Brexit. The overarching fear is economic. It seems that not even our politicians know what the economic landscape will look like post-Brexit.
Any leader of any theatre organisation will tell you that one of the most helpful decisions in recent history was the Conservatives’ move to offer theatres a similar tax relief as had been afforded the film industry in the UK. After a slew of ongoing cuts, this scheme has allowed the industry to invest in its own work once again – and long may it continue post-Brexit.
Another fear is the potential for us to become disconnected from our European colleagues, and their ideas, their aesthetics – and the healthy challenge they offer the UK theatre tradition.
One thing is clear: whatever happens during and after the Brexit debate, theatre will help us understand the changing nature of our politics and power in the world.