Letter: Revive local theatre

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Both the West End theatre managements and Sir Ian McKellen are right about the state of our theatre ("Has London theatre reached the stage where it can't find a decent audience?" 24 September). There are almost no reps where young actors can get contracted work for between six and 24 months playing a succession of roles, which was the way actors used to perfect their trade. Yet London's theatre scene is very profitable because of the vast increase in the pool of potential theatre-goers that modern transport has made possible, from the provinces and overseas.

But the long runs that have made Lord Lloyd-Webber's and Sir Cameron Mackintosh's fortunes have had debilitating consequences - on the star system, on actors' careers, on the popular appetite for new plays, on the possible audiences in the provinces for West End material, on touring theatre, on boulevard plays.

British provincial theatres can no longer employ permanent companies of actors performing a rep of plays in short runs. The rep movement is dead. In Germany, by contrast, well over 100 companies of actors with pensions work in locally-funded repertory theatres.

Here we need a determined effort to increase public funding of local theatres. Of course actors will not take extended contracts at the Equity minimum wage of pounds 200 per week - when a few small roles on television will be far more financially rewarding. But we need, as in Germany, to pay proper wages and gradually restore the habit of local theatre-going in the provinces, and even in the London suburbs.

To re-establish a virtuous triangle of local audiences buying tickets, local sponsors and donors supporting provincial companies, and local council- tax payers funding such institutions will not be easy. Yet that is what the live performing arts require.


London SW16