Laura Cox QC’s report into bullying and sexual harassment in the House of Commons made for grim but fascinating reading, not least because of the obvious parallels that can be drawn between the culture of “deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence” it identifies and a similar one that has existed for many years in the theatre sector.
Cox highlights that poor behaviour by certain MPs was effectively condoned by authorities and considered par for the course. She reports that she was told by one respondent that it has “always been part of the culture of the House Service that we accept that some members will be over-demanding, difficult or just plain rude and unpleasant”.
Compare that observation with a comment made by musical theatre star Patti LuPone in an interview with the Guardian last week. She says: “I am exacting and I push. If someone has the talent they have the right to be temperamental… It’s only the ones who don’t have the talent and are temperamental who make you say, ‘Just get out of here!’ ”
There is much to admire in LuPone’s skill as a performer and her candour and willingness to talk truth to power. But she is dead wrong about this. The attitude she expresses – that there should be one set of rules for some, and another for others – is at the root of problems facing theatre and the House of Commons.
Theatre has made more progress in addressing its problems than the Commons, and those driving that change deserve credit. But unless there is a fundamental change in culture when it comes to how ‘the talent’ and people in positions of power are expected to behave, and what others are expected to put up with, significant progress will not be made.
The results of our survey this week – that despite the vast majority of theatres updating their policies, there has not been a significant uptick in complaints – could be read in a number of ways. Perhaps behaviour has improved. Or maybe people still don’t feel comfortable or confident reporting misconduct.
One still hears of people being moved on from shows because they have fallen out with the star, or instances when a star has behaved badly but a lesser-known cast or crew member is moved on. It’s not easy – stars sell tickets – but these attitudes have to stop. Likewise, from producers, or others in positions of influence.
No matter how talented or important you are, you should be expected to abide by the same standards as everyone else. And if you don’t, the consequences should be the same.