I was startled by the recent report stating that theatres outside of London had seen a decrease in the number of tickets sold and also the percentage of income earned at the box office nationally.
Despite UK Theatre’s claim that it may be too early to assess whether this signifies a greater trend, since last year’s figures still managed to top those from 2013 (the first ever recorded), it’s impossible not to begin to speculate on the cause.
Of course, there will also be anomalies where some theatres are able to buck the trend (and last year, we in Chichester were one such theatre). But this could only provide more cause for concern, since those theatres’ impact on the averages must mean that other theatres are really struggling.
It’s particularly worrying in light of the fact that, due to ever-decreasing funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and local authorities, the pressure on theatres to increase their percentage of earned income is growing. Theatres have long been encouraged to diversify their income streams through new fundraising initiatives, catering, rental of spaces, and more.
So, what is going on? And will it continue? While it might be impossible to establish a proven causal link for some time yet, it feels intuitively obvious that the wider political situation has much to do with things. Two years after voting to leave the European Union, it seems we are no closer to achieving clarity on what life might be like when we’re out on our own.
The “strong and stable” government our prime minister promised on election is yet to materialise. Daily, we hear from another sector – whether it’s big business, the medical profession, banking – how damaging Brexit will be to life in the UK, how much poorer we will be, how the economy will suffer.
The uncertainty must be having an effect. How could it not? If we’re told by leading authorities that we must tighten our purse strings for fear of being caught short, then naturally we’ll be more frugal in our spending. It’s this fear that means we are having to be more prudent.
We have no idea whether taxation might rise (yes, even with a so-called low-tax political party); whether interest rates will follow suit; whether our pensions will mean anything at all in times to come (if we have pensions); whether we’ll be able to pay our mortgages or ever get on to the property ladder in the first place; whether we’ll be able to receive the best and relevant medical treatment. The list goes on.
It seems to me that, socially and artistically, theatres outside of London are fighting hard at the moment to diversify their work and audiences, to provide greater and more meaningful engagement with their local communities and to excite their audiences in a plethora of ways. It’s a great shame that the effects of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit might mean that fewer people feel able to participate in this excellent work.