To the Noel Coward Theatre for a sell out performance of Peter and Alice by the Michael Grandage Company. A performance that is no doubt keeping both its producers and the VAT man happy. Councillor Harry Phibbs would be delighted.
Why Cllr Phibbs? Well because on Conservative Home yesterday Cllr Phibbs posted an article titled ‘ why councils should not subsidise the arts’. It won’t matter – he argues – as the good art will out in the end. He quotes Kingsley Amis who said arts subsidies cause:-
plays without plots, a canvas entirely covered with black paint offered as a picture, poems that are meaningless patterns of letters – I needn’t go on
Its an argument that echoes a twitter debate I got involved in last weekend which started when Cerys Matthews asked- Name me a funded artist that has rocked the world? (see blog for more on that one).
Cllr Phibbs concluded:-
The scandal is not that funding is being cut. The scandal is that it was provided in the first place
Good art will out anyway – but will it?
Back to Peter and Alice. Directed by Michael Grandage – that’s the same Michael Grandage who made his directorial debut just up the road from me in Colchester (Mercury Theatre) and who really made his name as artistic director of Sheffield Theatres*. Both theatres supported by their local authorities. As anyone who reads this blog regularly will know – I grew up just down the road from Sheffield in Leeds. When I was a teenager the associate director at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds (a venue that became a reality – in part – due to the championing of local councillors) was Matthew Warchus – fast forward a few years (sic) and Warchus is the director behind the RSC’s commercial hit Matilda (both here and in America).
What am I getting at here? Directing is a craft you learn by doing. Practically all our premiere league directors – Danny Boyle included – have learnt their craft in regional theatres. If regional theatres disappear ( a real possibility if local authorities start to pull the plug) the West End, commercial theatre full stop will look very different in 5, 10 and 20 years time. The VAT man wont be looking so happy then!
Fin Kennedy’s report into new writing In Battalions quotes commercial producer Sonia Freidman (the producer behind – to name just a few current shows Book of Mormon, Old Times and Merrily We Roll Along s ):-
I don’t get subsidy. I don’t need it. But I do need the subsidised sector. That is where the talent finds its training. Writers, actors, designers and directors all cut their teeth in that environment… we need to take an overview of the cultural body politic.
A quick glance through the biogs of the Peter and Alice cast and creative team biogs rather proves Sonia’s point.
A couple of weeks ago George Osborne was getting very excited about special forces with the announcement of the latest Star Wars film being made in the UK. He cited two reasons why UK PLC’s bid to bring the Star Wars franchise back had been successful – first tax breaks, second a creative pool second to none.
That talent exists in no small part because of the intricate and fragile creative arts ecology which exists within the UK. In theatre for example companies throughout the uk – regional theatres, touring companies (like Eastern Angles for whom I’m General Manager) and arts centres invest time and money in developing new talent. Local authority money is often vital in enabling that to happen (and that is without touching on the other benefits LA investment brings – civic pride, social cohesion, health, happiness, regeneration to name but a few).
Sitting high up in the gods at Peter and Alice watching a strictly commercial, seemingly unsubsidised performance I couldn’t help but be reminded of the complicated and delicate nature of the arts ecology. But it was also a bizarrely brilliant example of why LA funding matters – and I wish I had had Cllr Phibbs alongside to explain.
* click both links and you’ll find both theatres currently have something else in commmon!