In recent times, many of us might have wondered whether Arts Council England, not to mention its cousins in Scotland and Wales, have been determined to close a number of hitherto thriving theatre companies for unspecified reasons.

Few will have missed the trauma surrounding the decision to defund the English National Opera in a bizarre attempt to move it out of London to a number of locations, several of which didn’t feel the need for an additional opera company.

Some smaller theatres have closed forever. This included Oldham Coliseum, even though that theatre was located in Greater Manchester, an area that Arts Council England was apparently keen to support at the expense of London and the Home Counties. Others did slightly better (or, to be more accurate, less badly), losing a proportion of their funding but at least getting something, which left them struggling to keep their heads above water but not quite drowning—yet.

There is no doubt that those in government, including invisible Culture Minister Lucy Fraser, whose ambitions do not seem to embrace any artistic endeavours, believe that culture should live and die on the basis of commercial forces. That is a fatal recipe that will lead to bland populism.

In this light, a press release issued yesterday by Hampstead Theatre offers some rays of hope but no guarantees.

The headline immediately identifies the biggest obstacle. “Hampstead Theatre announces its spring 2024 programme plus the launch of a £1.25 million fundraising campaign”. Why does a long-established and highly respected theatre about which its Producer and Chief Executive Greg Ripley-Duggan could honestly say “Hampstead’s aim has always been to present outstanding new plays and champion original talent” need £1.25 million from the public? The quick answer is because, in its wisdom, Arts Council England defunded the theatre. An instant response was the departure of the theatre’s excellent Artistic Director Roxana Silbert, seemingly leaving the much-loved venue artistically adrift.

There must still be concern regarding what happens if it is unable to find the money. Presumably, despite having a state-of-the-art building that is still one of London’s newest and a devoted following, Hampstead will go the way of Oldham and others and be forced to close its doors.

The good news is that a small number of devoted supporters and trustees have already pledged £1 million, offering hope for a brighter future. To quote from one, Sir Tom Stoppard, “just being here at Hampstead Theatre makes me feel the necessity of theatres like this, not just surviving but flourishing. It’s a lot to do with succeeding generations of writers, and that’s why the #HampsteadAhead appeal is important.”

In the meantime, To Have and To Hold, a new play by one of Britain’s finest, Richard Bean, has just opened on the main stage and the programme for spring 2024 season looks fantastic. It should have something for everybody with some really big hitters travelling to north-west London.

The main stage sees the world première of The Divine Mrs S, a play about Sarah Siddons by April De Angelis, the UK première of Between Riverside and Crazy by Stephen Adly Guirgis and the English language première of Christopher Hampton’s Visit from an Unknown Woman based on a short story by the incomparable Stefan Zweig.

Downstairs, there is a new play from popular playwright Richard Nelson, complemented by works from younger writers Richard Molloy and Sarah Power.

Given the theatre’s parlous position, Sarah Power’s Hampstead debut is a helpful reminder of why this new writing theatre is so important to the community and industry, given that she is an alumnus of the theatre’s Inspire 2022 programme for emerging playwrights.

While it is sad to see a much-loved theatre under threat due to shortsighted decisions from those who should be supporting just this kind of adventurous company, it is good to know that they are fighting back and readers are strongly encouraged to help out both by attending some of these productions and contributing to yet another theatrical Phoenix fund, #HampsteadAhead.