Danny Boyle champions regional theatre

Turn off the football, go to a play instead. That was the director's message yesterday as he warned of the dire threat to regional theatres

Football may be the national game, but the man behind the Opening Ceremony at London 2012 – the curtain-raiser to Britain's greatest-ever festival of sport – thinks we should be focusing our passions elsewhere.

Danny Boyle issued a stark warning that the UK's rich heritage of regional theatre, which heavily influenced his Olympics spectacular, is under threat. He urged the Government to step in with the "modest but sustained" funding needed to save it, and issued a call for local communities to "believe in" their local playhouses.

"They are the modest cousins of football, cinema – which I'm partly responsible for – and pop music, and what they provide is something else to believe in and we must believe in it as well or otherwise we'll lose it," he told an audience at London's National Theatre.

"And it's something in our cities and towns... that isn't Wetherspoon's and Walkabout pubs and Mario Balotelli and John Terry and people like that." These local beacons of the arts were, Boyle added, "something decent to believe in. Something good and nourishing for us all".

Regional theatre executives say they have been left scratching their heads at a Government that championed the creativity of Boyle's ceremony but has continued to slash funding for cultural organisations.

The budget for the Arts Council, a major source of income for local theatres, was cut by 30 per cent after the 2010 election, and since then many local authorities have also drastically reduced their spending on the arts.

Sir Nicholas Hytner, director of the National, pointed out yesterday that 0.1 per cent of total public spending goes on the arts and with philanthropic donations, 80 per cent goes to institutions in the capital.

Despite the Government telling regional institutions to "get better at asking" for private donations, he has said, "it has done next to nothing to encourage philanthropy".

As they gathered yesterday to highlight the impact of cuts so far – and to warn against any more – artistic and executive directors from theatres around the UK said the very survival of some institutions was in doubt.

David Thacker, of the Octagon Theatre in Bolton, where Boyle once worked as an usher, insisted that they were not "crying wolf". He said: "The kind of theatres we're passionate about are in severe danger and the smallest cut could have a catastrophic effect."

Boyle himself, in his first public appearance since the Games, gave an impassioned plea for ministers to step in, urging the Government, and the country. to champion the culture that came with the summer's ceremonies and the Cultural Olympiad.

"We must not let it go," said the man behind films including Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire. "My journey to the Olympic opening ceremony began at the Bolton Octagon... We mustn't be defensive, you can grow and build communities through investment in the art."

Gemma Bodinetz, from Liverpool Playhouse, wholeheartedly agreed, arguing that sustained Government and local government funding over the past 10 years had helped to build a strong theatre culture in the city, which she was desperate to see continue. She said the theatres were a "small but crucial part of civic pride in Liverpool". "We are not dusty, reppy buildings putting on plays in sets with creaky French windows performing in front of an apathetic, half-asleep bourgeoisie. We are vibrant."

Boyle said the Government had a responsibility to make "modest but sustained investment" in the arts, adding: "You can clearly see the benefits from it. We lack infrastructure around the country where young people can find a home."

Regions five best

The Match Box

Liverpool Playhouse

The world premiere of a new work by Irish playwright Frank McGuinness opened in June to strong reviews. It focuses on a passionate story of love and hate, with local actor Leanne Best and directed by Bafta nominated actor and director Lia Williams.

Matilda

Royal Shakespeare Company

The adaptation of Roald Dahl's children novel proved a runaway hit after premiering in Stratford in November 2010 and then moving to the West End. This year it picked up seven Olivier Awards, the most won by a single show.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Chichester Festival Theatre

Veteran stage and screen actor Henry Goodman won huge plaudits for his portrayal of the title character in the play by Bertolt Brecht, an allegory of Hitler's rise to power.

The Go-Between

West Yorkshire Playhouse

Described by one reviewer as the finest new musical to spring from the regions, The Go-Between also won best musical at the Theatre Awards UK.

Democracy

Crucible Theatre

The Sheffield Theatre's production of the Michael Frayn play transferred to the West End in June following a successful run.

Nick Clark

Tom Morris, artistic director, Bristol Old Vic

We are confused over how to make the case [for funding]. One of the reasons for that is because this is happening in the year it seemed the Government turned the corner in understanding investment in culture in a very, very big way.

The opening and closing ceremonies and the Cultural Olympiad  were seen as good for the country, good for the economy and good for defining the nation as enabled by its creativity.

If you were a Martian landing in Britain and wanted to advise this country on what it should invest in to become the best version of itself it can be, you would say invest in culture. And at a headline level in those brilliant ceremonies and that brilliant festival the government seemed to understand it.

But now we seem to be in the same old place of making the micro argument for the infrastructure that is entirely necessary for us to do another opening ceremony in 20 years time.

And the frustrating thing from our point of view is the leadership of the government  seems to understand this. The day after Danny’s ceremony David Cameron had a trade fair in London to invite entrepreneurs and stock investors from all over the world to invest in British culture because he understood that the ceremony had put us in the global  spotlight as a creative nation. Why can’t we get that thinking to join up with the basic thinking of the tiny amounts of money we need to keep running our theatres?

It seems to me that one tactic is to out David Cameron as an investor of public subsidy in the arts, because he is [with the Olympic opening ceremony]. He did it, it worked, he celebrated it.

Clearly he already understands the value of that but there is still a fear it doesn’t play so well if you say it. I think the success of what happened this summer has really overcome that fear.

I think the people who come up and thank Danny in the street have been empowered to feel proud of this country in a way for a long time politicians feared they wouldn’t be. We should say: ‘you’ve done it already. Keep doing it. Stop pretending you’re not doing it.

 

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