Sorry, Sir Peter, but things are getting better for theatre

Hall's charge that the Arts Council is provoking the end of many small theatres is scandalous

THE ARTS argument has been a long-running serial over the last 50 years. Sometimes it threatens to be a soap opera; just occasionally it becomes a slanging match.

Peter Hall, in his article in Monday's Independent, attacked the Government and the Arts Council's arts funding in relation to drama. It is a great pity that his case is so easy to rebut on the grounds of its inadequate research. As Peter Hewitt, chief executive of the Arts Council of England, pointed out in this newspaper, there are a number of holes in the Hall argument. Most notably, he wrongly claims that increased government funding has not got through to the front line - although in fact a 9 per cent increase went to the National Theatre, 10 per cent to some orchestras and 100 per cent to some small organisations.

Hewitt could have added that Hall's extraordinary charge that "it seems Arts Council policy to provoke the end of many small theatres so that resources can be concentrated on the big boys" is all but scandalous. Is he really suggesting that those who work at the Arts Council and are devoted to breeding the arts in this country and helping them in so far as they can are deliberately setting out to crush small theatres? And which ones does he mean? The Palace, Watford - 11 per cent increase in grant? The Salisbury Playhouse - 11 per cent? The Derby Playhouse - 6 per cent increase? As I said, it is a pity that he is so vulnerable; a pity, because Peter Hall should carry authority that is perilously close to rabble-rousing.

I like Peter very much. I admire his work. I share his hopes for the future of the arts in this country and I have at the very least spoken on as many platforms, written as many articles over the last 20 years, been at as many last-ditch meetings, been as often publicly derided for "loveliness", as he has - and I have not changed.

But the attitude and the policy of the government to the arts in this country did begin to change in May 1997. It was a change for the better and it is gathering pace. Not to acknowledge this - worse, deliberately to misrepresent, undermine and sneer at it - is quite simply unfair. We should take our line from Orwell and try to "tell it like it is". To ignore what is good because it is far from perfect, to ignore improvements because they are not instantaneous and universal, to ignore the fact (which a wily old political animal like Peter Hall must understand better than most) that policy can be made in a few days but will take time, often a year or so to go through the damned process that turns ideas into actions - to ignore all this is to be rashly unfair again, and open to accusations.

For why is this ignored? Peter explains that his recent unsuccessful application to the Arts Council for a pounds 500,000 grant to run a company in London (incidentally, this sum is more than the combined grants given to the Donmar Warehouse, the Actors Touring Company and the Theatre de Complicite) should be brought against him. Alas, what does he expect? Surely after running the most heavily subsidised companies in British theatre (subsidies he used brilliantly) for decades, and after building up excellent film-making and commercial theatre careers partly as a result of this, he above all people must expect the usual careful considerations when asking for such a large lump of public money for a theatre arena (London) that is already pretty well served. He can scarcely complain that there will be those who treat his subsequent attack on the Arts Council as, if only in part, tinted with revenge or at least resentment.

But there are other reasons why the current good news - not enough of course, just a start - is easier to ignore. There exist now, because of the explosion of theatre over the last 25 years, and there will exist into the foreseeable future, so many companies that there will inevitably be some that are under-subsidised. As long as money is finite, that will be the case.

Peter Hall knows this more than most. Although subsidy for the arts has gone from pounds 8m in the Seventies to pounds 240m today, plus the hundreds of millions coming from the lottery, there is still not enough for the burgeoning demand. But Chris Smith's achievement in getting a way-above-average increase in the arts budget in the comprehensive spending review has to be recognised as a firm beginning, and a clear signal.

It is easier to pretend that more money is the only answer than to face up to other facts. Some companies, for example, fall away, lose their grip and decay. Pouring good money after bad may not be as useful as encouraging a new company or growing a company that is already doing fine work.

It is easier to ignore the painstaking work of the National Campaign for the Arts (with which I've been associated for many years) and set up a glittering Alternative Arts Council, some of whose "names" - Tom Stoppard, Jeremy Isaacs - immediately declare that they know nothing about it. This borders on mere gesture politics.

There is still much to be angry about in the arts, but most of it is largely the result of the 18-year inheritance from the Tories. Chris Smith has drawn a line and clearly he is fighting the battle. He is condemned to be the man who can never do enough. But he is far, far better than what we had before, and he deserves a fair chance.

I fear that Peter Hall's regular exercises in public demonisation will do little more than further convince those who need to be won over that the "luvvies" will never be satisfied - they have no sense of proportion, are not prepared to give public support where it could be effective, and are curiously addicted to the quick fixes of opposition.

It cannot be said often enough that much needs to be done - and more's the pity that Peter Hall refuses to see that at last his cause and mine and that of thousands of others is being taken up by a government. Joining in is sometimes the best revenge.

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London