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Daniel Evans: How will the theatre world cope with a no-deal Brexit?

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I’ve never been particularly fond of Halloween. Dressing up in ghoulish gear and blackmailing neighbours on their doorsteps for sweets always embarrassed me somehow. But this year, October 31 brings an even more worrying spectre with it: the prospect of severing our relationship with Europe without a deal. And so, as we reach the final countdown, I can’t help but wonder what the effects will be on our society, both in the long and short term.

If the government’s own report – allegedly written only on August 1, despite claims that it was out of date – is to be believed, we could be in for a rough time of it. The documents of Operation Yellowhammer suggest we should prepare for shortages in food, fuel and medicine, as well as logjams at borders and disruption at ports. It’s hard to believe anyone could now think that leaving the European Union with no deal would be preferable to remaining in it. And yet, it seems that many people want out at any cost.

Some artists and artistic leaders have vented their fury, concern and shame, but what will it mean in real terms for the arts in the UK? British theatre’s relationship with its European counterparts has become closer in recent years. The free flow of ideas, aesthetics and practices to and from Europe has even become part of our mainstream – and the UK’s arts scene has become richer for it. We’ve freely exchanged artists: Ivo van Hove found homes at the Young Vic, National Theatre and the Barbican, and Katie Mitchell at the Schaubühne in Berlin and the Stadsschouwburg in Amsterdam. Will this open, mutually beneficial two-way stream be allowed to continue? We will have to wait and see.

Think of the opera and ballet companies whose artists both on and off stage have enriched their work through an ability to import and export productions, sets, costumes and talented individuals. At Chichester, our brilliant costume supervisors often wax lyrical about a particular design house in Germany that supplies some of the fabrics we use to make our costumes. How will a no-deal scenario affect that process? We wait and see.

Perhaps most worrying of all are two further prospects: the first is the economic uncertainty foisted on to our communities, which are still dealing with the effects of an extended period of austerity. In plain terms, are we going to be even more out of pocket and thus have less to spend on enjoying culture? And secondly, how the devil will we bring together our country, our society and even some of our families that have been riven so divisively by the European question?

Time will tell. We know the work of art and artists will continue despite the dark times – and it may be that the arts will play a role in reflecting these deeply troubling times in order to help us fathom what on earth has happened during the past decade. But at the moment, it’s impossible to think that, in being offered a trick or treat, we could opt for the former.


Daniel Evans is artistic director of Chichester Festival Theatre. Read more of his columns at: thestage.co.uk/author/daniel-evans

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