Nicholas Kent: Noises Off

A healthy arts scene brings huge benefits to the capital, as the present Mayor understands, says the director of the Tricycle Theatre in London

Share
Related Topics

In 1984, I put on my first show at the Tricycle Theatre, a production of Mustapha Matura's Playboy of the West Indies. In those days, our audience was overwhelmingly white and middle class.

Twenty years later, we revived the production. This time, the audience was completely different. As well as West Indians and whites, there were Afghanis, and Iraqis, and Somali Muslims, and they were all enjoying this Trinidadian play together. London today is home to so many different cultural expressions, and we all get access to all of it. The moment we start to share our culture with other people, we start to feel at ease with the differences between London's many communities. That's terrific for a city.

That's why it's crucial that London has a Mayor who cares about the arts – and so far, I'd give Ken a pretty good report. Theatre-goers used to worry about parking; now they know they can park if they need to, and pay to do so, or opt for public transport. The free travelcard for older people has brought a lot of people into matinees who were previously almost housebound, and the free transport for children is very helpful, too. The London Underground now runs later, and better community policing makes people feel they're safer travelling.

Ken's discounted theatre ticket schemes have created a new West End audience in that slack period at the beginning of the year: many people who have never been to the theatre before come in to see shows, and that has a knock-on effect for fringe venues such as ours.

There is, of course, much still to do. The 2012 Olympics will be a boon for London, but precious little money is being extracted from government for the important cultural aspects of the event – that is something the Mayor can do more to influence. With the Olympic development, the city's centre will move eastwards, meaning that the Barbican will be closer to most people than the West End. But the east is kind of an arts wasteland at the moment, which is why I was pleased to see Ken's arts manifesto promise money for new arts centres around the city.

The same document promised crucial support for the live music venues that help to make London such a musical melting pot. It shows that, fundamentally, Ken realises that culture can be an enormously powerful economic driver for a city. As he well knows, London's creative industries are worth £21bn.

The only reference to the arts and culture I can find in Boris Johnson's manifesto is something about the culture of disaffected youths on buses. He simply doesn't take the arts seriously. Nor does it appear as if Brian Paddick has much to say on the arts. I don't want to criticise either of them without knowing about their arts policies, but I'm at a loss to find out what they are.

This lack of engagement isn't only shortsighted, it shows scant knowledge of the economics of the arts in London. The arts are extremely good at making the most of the limited subsidy they get – and a little more money into the arts would create a disproportionately large number of jobs.

It's not just a question of finance. London is such an appealing, international city because it actively includes many cultures and minorities. Ken sees that the arts can be a wonderful means of fostering a sense of inclusiveness. He's curious about other cultures, and in such a diverse city, that's crucial. Boris's remarks on this subject in the House of Commons have always been rather jokey; they make him sound like a little Englander.

At the moment, London is at the cutting edge. I often go to New York, and even that city pales next to London. Right now, it's London that offers the most amazing concentration of arts in the world.

It just seems crazy to risk handing that to a lightweight, someone who is not a serious administrator. Ken has his detractors, and I personally don't like bendy buses. But here is a man who's been committed to London, and its culture, all his working life.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Learning Support Assistant

£65 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Due to the continual growth and...

Learning Support Assistant - Newport

£65 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Due to the continual growth and...

Operations Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently recruiting for an Operati...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, Security Cleared

£100 - £110 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Ham...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Prime Minister David Cameron walks on stage to speak at The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) annual conference on November 4, 2013  

Does Cameron really believe in 'British Values'?

Temi Ogunye
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz