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Chichester Festival Theatre’s Daniel Evans: There’s more to the UK theatre scene than a West End transfer

Sharon D Clarke and Abiona Omonua in Caroline, Or Change in Minerva Theatre, Chichester. Photo: Marc Brenner Sharon D Clarke and Abiona Omonua in the Chichester production of Caroline, Or Change, which is about to open in the West End. Photo: Marc Brenner
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It’s fascinating to see the kind of work that is currently thriving in the West End. There seems to be an increasing appetite for work of a political nature, perhaps unsurprisingly given the political climate.

The Ferryman – which has recently opened on Broadway with rave reviews – played against the backdrop of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Nina Raine’s Consent offered a critique of the justice system, while The Jungle – which started at the Young Vic before heading to the Playhouse theatre – centres on the plight of refugees.

Another from the Young Vic, The Inheritance explores the shifting sands of gay identity. Sheffield Theatres’ Everybody’s Talking About Jamie follows the life of a transvestite – and audiences are flocking. I’ll never forget the reaction of a young black woman sitting next to me at Hamilton. When the line “Immigrants, we get the job done” was uttered, she got on her feet and began applauding.

Often thought of as the Mecca of theatre in the Western world, it’s as well to note that not every production belongs in the West End. At Chichester Festival Theatre, we’ve been fortunate to be able to share three of our productions with a London audience this year: a new play, a classical play and our production of the musical Caroline, Or Change, which is about to start rehearsals.

While we would usually seek to share our work with a wider audience – whether through a transfer to the capital, a tour or through digital means – there are times when the discussion about whether a certain piece of work belongs in the West End is an important one to conduct.

The commercial world is challenging financially and logistically. Theatre availability is the bane of commercial producers’ lives. Costs continue to rise; there is perennial discussion about US imports restricting opportunities for UK work; popular musicals remain parked for lengthy periods; the playhouses get packed with smaller musicals – it goes on.

The UK is richer for its subsidised houses across the country. While those theatres are increasingly subject to commercial pressures, particularly as they begin to feel the bite of Brexit, we are fortunate that work can continue to be made in a nurturing environment.

So, when the market trends of the West End demand a certain kind of play or production, it’s reassuring to know our subsidised sector can also offer a counterpoint to those trends. Whether it’s Liverpool’s Everyman Company or Leeds Playhouse’s walkabout season, this body of work is made in and for specific cities, regions and audiences. Long may the diversity of our sectors complement, collaborate and challenge each other.

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