Arts: a week in the arts

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Something's rotten in the state of theatre, at least according to The Stage, which this week predicts a spate of financial crises: a possible merger in Liverpool, possible closures elsewhere. Duncan Weldon, director of Chichester Festival Theatre, wants to shut up shop for half the year, with dark hints of closing altogether if more cash can't be found.

Talking to Weldon, I found him extremely downbeat, not just about Chichester but about the future of theatre in general. Young people, he says, are simply not going to the theatre. "I don't think it's that they can't afford it: they can afford to buy CDs. They just have other interests. We've got a serious illness in the theatre, and I don't know how you solve it." Apocalyptic words. But Weldon is not alone in prophesying the worst. Jude Kelly, director of West Yorkshire Playhouse, agrees that, for many in their late teens and early twenties, theatre simply isn't on the agenda: "It isn't rock 'n' roll."

But why? No real analysis has been done. How does one reconcile Weldon's diagnosis of an "illness in the theatre" with the huge numbers of youngsters going to Shopping and Fucking and Popcorn in the West End, or the 88 per cent attendances, in all weathers, at Shakespeare's Globe. True, Mark Ravenhill's and Ben Elton's plays were soon seen as trendy, while the Globe remains a fascinating novelty. But there is another factor. Weldon is wrong, I believe, in excluding price from his analysis. I believe it weighs heavily with young people contemplating a night out. The Globe had standing and sitting at pounds 5. And, when the BAC in south London introduced "pay what you can" nights, they too rapidly sold out. If West End producers really are serious about bringing in a new, younger audience, why don't they experiment by offering a good range of tickets at the same price as cinema seats, and maybe even free admission on Mondays, when theatres can be all too dismally empty?

What a pity the ruling council of the Royal Academy had to signal the demise of its mercurial exhibitions secretary, Norman Rosenthal. Censuring him for recent remarks they found "unacceptable" isn't too worrying. But what about that vote of confidence? As football managers down the ages, Michael Foot and various other victims of a vote of confidence by their employers or colleagues could tell him, Norman's fate is now well and truly sealed.

Culture secretary Chris Smith tells Music Week magazine what a fan he is of all the popular beat combos: "I enjoy listening to a Pulp tape almost as much as I enjoy listening to a Mahler symphony." But asked if he has been to any gigs lately, he replies: "Not since I took over responsibility for the music industry, but that's partly because I haven't had any invitations. If anyone wants to invite me to things, I would be keen to go." There is another alternative, Chris, ground-breakingly radical as it must appear to anyone in the House of Commons. But one can always indulge one's passions by buying a ticket.