In his feature Save Our Theatres, the BTG’s London editor Philip Fisher looked at Sonia Friedman’s Daily Telegraph article of 21 May and its gloomy (but accurate) predictions about the disaster which awaits the West End and major theatres and companies throughout the country if there is no rescue from the government. Similar fears were expressed by playwright James Graham on the BBC’s Question Time, also on 21st.
These follow the announcement earlier this month that Southampton Nuffield Theatres has called in the administrators. Then on 20 May, Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum announced losses of £700,000 which have forced it totally cancel 2020 and raise the possibility of staff redundancies.
And Shakespeare’s Globe, we are told, a theatre which gets no public subsidy, is in severe danger. It would need at least £5m to avoid insolvency, it told the DCMS select committee, and cannot access Arts Council England’s £90m emergency funding because it does not receive any ACE regular funding.
It seems inevitable that there will be some crowdfunding appeals to save major theatres and companies and it is probably equally inevitable that many theatre-lovers will want to contribute.
No appeals have been made yet, but when I read about the potential fate of The Globe I wanted to do something to help, to make a donation to keep an important national theatre institution going. And then I thought, “hang on! How often do you go to The Globe?” and that was followed by, “when was the last time you were in London?” and “when do you expect to go to London next?”
The answers were that I’ve been to The Globe a couple of times, that I was last in London in 2012 and that, since I live about 350 miles away and am closer to 80 than 70, the likelihood of my taking a theatre trip there is, at best, very slim.
On the other hand, there’s a theatre about 12 miles away from where I live, to which I go at the very least once a month (but often more) and it, too, gets no regular ACE funding, just the (very) occasional bit of project funding, pays over all ticket money to the performers in its shows and survives on the bar takings and the support of volunteers. That’s Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle.
Which should I support? Which would you support?
No contest! It’s Alphabetti every time because it’s an important part of the North East’s theatre ecology, encouraging and nurturing young and emerging (not necessarily the same thing!) actors, directors and writers to develop new and exciting theatre.
Then even closer to me is The Customs House, an arts centre, cinema, theatre and gallery in South Shields. It is an Arts Council NPO but only gets £100,687 per annum, making it number 753 out of the 842 NPOs. That grant, however, is not for theatre but for its community work. In spite of that, in 2019 it mounted four in-house productions (plus an award-winning panto), written by local writers on local themes and performed by local actors (I saw and reviewed all of them), in addition to acting as a receiving house for a considerable number more.
Then in Durham, there’s the Gala Theatre and Cinema, which receives no ACE support but which mounts at least two productions (plus a panto) every year and also gives a platform to local theatre-makers.
Then in Newcastle, there’s Live Theatre and Northern Stage, both NPOs, which produce work which not only tours nationally but is internationally acclaimed, as well as supporting emerging artists and companies through various development schemes. There’s also Dance City which not only brings the best of small-scale UK-based contemporary dance to the region but also gives a home and support to up and coming dancers and choreographers.
And that’s just within a twelve-mile radius of my home. It excludes commercial receiving houses and many theatre companies which live from hand to mouth at the best of times.
They all deserve support, as do others from around the North East and every other part of the country, but, if the pattern of theatre funding we’ve seen to date continues, they will be way behind London when the cash is doled out, so it is up to those of us who live in the regions to make sure that we support our local theatres and not allow ourselves to be persuaded to give to national institutions instead.
Our local theatre needs support now more than ever, so please, please, please support them to the hilt! By all means send the Globe and its ilk a tenner if that’s what you want, but save the bulk of your generosity for your local talent—which, let’s face it, is where many of those who become London stars hone their abilities.