Letter: Star actors could keep regional theatres alive

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The Independent Online
Sir: David Lister is not exaggerating when he warns that closing theatres in cities and towns around the country will take out even more of the heart from communities ('Less arty and more in tune, please', 22 July) that already look back with sadness and affection on the passing of local shops, railway stations and swimming pools. Whether currently on the hit list or not, the people of Bristol, Oldham, Bolton and Coventry would find that nostalgia is no substitute for the continuity that meeting places contribute to the identity of a town.

Of course, a meeting place is only that if people use it, and you can't rely on brand loyalty alone. Artistic standards come and go, but almost all the reps are engaged in the kind of mixed fare that David Lister advocates - I don't know any that can afford to ignore their audiences and push ahead with innovative work to the exclusion of all else - yet they still struggle to balance the books. Producing plays is always going to be expensive - rehearsal brings in no revenue and the actors need to be paid (although at current rates of about pounds 180 per week, they come cheap). Theatres will always need subsidy, just as railways, libraries and swimming pools do. There is one way, however, in which theatres and theatre might help itself.

Actors, when they leave the regions for the West End and television, rarely return. A lot of empty seats would be taken up if actors from the RSC, the National Theatre, the West End and television came back to the regions for a play or two each year. Their agents wouldn't like it (after all, 10 per cent of pounds 180 isn't worth the paperwork), but I think audiences would. It's harder to shut full theatres.

Yours sincerely,


Stockport, Cheshire

22 July