West Yorkshire Playhouse blasts West End prices

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The artistic director of one of Britain's most successful regional theatres has attacked ticket prices in the West End of London, which are typically double those charged in the provinces.

Ian Brown, who has just marked his first year running the West Yorkshire Playhouse (WYP), contrasted the cheapest seats at his venue in Leeds - £4 for students and senior citizens - with the typical £40 top prices in the stalls in the heart of theatreland. He did concede that high rents imposed on theatre owners in the capital were partly to blame.

"There has to be a limit to how much people are prepared to pay for a seat," Mr Brown said yesterday at the launch of his new season. "Whether or not there are people out there who can afford a top-price seat in the stalls for a play, it is certainly true that a huge number of people can't."

When he was young, Mr Brown said, he paid a few pounds to sit in the gods, but even those seats were now quite expensive. He maintained that while there were more signs of variety in the West End now than a few years ago, pro-ducers could not take real risks because of the costs. "The theatre owners have got to start getting a bit real on the rents."

This means commercial producers are increasingly talking of spreading the risk by sharing the costs of productions with theatres such as the West Yorkshire Playhouse, a venue that has attracted the talents of actors including Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in recent years.

Mr Brown said he hoped this approach would enable him to stage a version of the film The Postman Always Rings Twice. But he added that, despite the £25m injection of funding into English regional theatre by the Arts Council, money was tight.

Leeds City Council support had not increased for a couple of years and government funding for the WYP's education programme would run out in February. A deal with the actors' union Equity to increase paltry regional wages had been another expense this year, he added.

None the less, the new season includes a bilingual production in Catalan and English with Barcelona's Theatre Romea of George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. It will be directed by Josep Galindo, a protégé of the controversial director Calixto Bieito. A production of Medea will be directed by a young British director, Femi Elufowoju, who will bring the Yoruba theatrical traditions of Nigeria to bear on Euripides' Greek classic. Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge is another highlight.

The venue is currently showing The Madness of George III by Alan Bennett.