Theatre is one of the few genuine British success stories. Even in the grip of this recession, one in three people in Britain attended a theatre performance last year; more people than go to League Football matches. It creates vital income for the nation, through VAT, tourism spend and earnings from abroad.
Theatre appeals to people who are seriously concerned with their own lives and the society in which they live, and who go to playhouses to be stimulated, entertained and illuminated. Whatever their age they expect theatre to be relevant and exciting rather than trendy. Clearly theatre is not a mass art form. It was, however, before the advent of cinema, just as cinema was until it was replaced by television.
David Lister also makes the usual mistake of relating the London experience to the whole country. It is true that the West End is centred on large-scale musicals, but producers such as Duncan Weldon and Bill Kenwright have thrived on well-cast and imaginatively presented revivals of classics from Pinter to Anouilh, from Euripides to Rostand, and from Shakespeare and Chekhov to O'Neill and Miller. The Royal National Theatre itself with the Hare Trilogy and The Madness of George III, and The Royal Court with Oleanna, bear testimony that modern playwrights are still thriving at the box office.
Outside London the British theatre is artistically more vibrant than it has been for many years, presenting the full spectrum of drama including challenging new work to large and appreciative audiences. When have the regions been more alive?
There is only one dark cloud on the horizon and that is the increasing severity of cuts. The theatre world is waiting to hear its fate for 1994-95, knowing that it lives on the knife edge now and that any future cuts will mean closures of theatres and severe curtailment of the programmes of those theatres that are able to remain open. It is not the nation that suffers from stage fright, it is the Government.
Royal Exchange Theatre
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