It is hard to overestimate the impact the National Theatre’s Travelex scheme has had on UK theatre.
Nicholas Hytner ranked it as one of the greatest achievements of his and Nick Starr’s tenure. Not only did it usher in many similar, sponsored ticket schemes at not-for-profit theatres such as the Donmar and the Old Vic, but it also forced the commercial West End to consider its own pricing structures at a time when premium pricing could have completely taken over. Instead, there are now day seats or subsidised tickets for most West End productions.
But all good things must come to an end and, after 15 years, Travelex is ending its support. This poses the NT a major problem and I’m not convinced that the answer is to find a new partner for the same scheme.
Travelex is so firmly associated with the initiative that it will be very hard for a new brand to make its mark: much as the Edinburgh Comedy Awards are still widely referred to as the Perriers even though that brand hasn’t sponsored them for years, and much as Boris Bikes are still… you get my point.
Perhaps the answer is for the National to work with a new sponsor on something different, but along similar lines: Norris’ suggestion of a scheme that focuses on its touring productions sounds like a smart idea.
As much of the public conversation around Brexit has centred on immigration into the UK, it can be easy to overlook the impact on things and people coming out of this country.
This is especially true for culture, a net exporter in both goods and services. When it comes to imports, the parts of the entertainment world most likely to be affected are dance and opera. These genres are traditionally more closely aligned with continental Europe than the theatre, which has tended to look across the Atlantic for inspiration and opportunities.
UK opera and dance houses’ programmes regularly feature European companies, but the same is not true of playhouses and musical houses: the West End is pretty much 100% anglophone, all the time. Conversely, British musical theatre classics make regular tours of EU countries – Andrew Lloyd Webber shows are ever-present on the German touring circuit.
I’d be surprised if a solution wasn’t reached to ensure top European talent could still perform in the UK in a relatively frictionless way post-Brexit, but let’s not gloss over potential barriers to taking British culture to the rest of Europe. An end to freedom of movement works both ways.