The pay's the thing in Labour's theatre plan

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The Independent Online
DAVID LISTER

Arts Correspondent

The Labour Party is planning to introduce "pay what you can" nights at theatres throughout the country in a radical plan to broaden the appeal of the arts.

The party has already begun talks with the 30 main regional theatres, with a view to allowing audiences on Monday nights to pay what they feel they can. Mondays are traditionally quiet nights for theatres, and Labour's arts team feels that the scheme would bring in new and less affluent audiences.

The plan will form a key part of Labour's arts campaign, which it will launch next summer as part of its pre-general election campaign. The experience of the very few fringe theatres that have tried "pay what you can" nights is that they are self-financing. The theatre is full, and many people end up giving reasonable contributions.

Labour has no plans yet to approach national companies such as the RSC and the Royal National Theatre. The party wants the scheme to have its blessing, but to be a voluntary initiative on the part of the theatres.

However, it may well have to wrestle with the question of whether it will have to subsidise theatres to run the "pay what you can" nights.

Mark Fisher, a shadow spokesman on the arts, said yesterday: "What we want to be able to say is that under a Labour government, on a given night, you can go to any publicly funded theatre, for example the Birmingham Rep, and see a play for as much as you can afford."

Two London theatres, the Battersea Arts Centre and the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, have already run successful "pay what you can" nights.

Mr Fisher has also promised a government-wide policy for the arts.

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