Letter: Theatre of the ignored

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The Independent Online
Sir: I read David Lister's article about the marginalisation of theatre ('A nation suffering from stage fright', 14 December) with considerable interest and feel that my own recent experiences might throw further light on the struggle theatre has to stay in the mainstream of popular culture.

My desire, as artistic director of Hampstead Theatre, to widen our constituency comes from a belief that live theatre can and should be open to all and a practical realisation that unless we grab the interest of a younger audience, theatre will be dead within 25 years. Recent plays that could be said to have extended the theatre's repertoire have included Philip Ridley's The Fastest Clock in the Universe and Brad Fraser's Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love and, now, Punchbag.

Punchbag, written by Robert Llewellyn and set in a women's self-defence class, was programmed before the furore about date rape burst but, when it did, we anticipated that such a topical play would excite interest.

This is a play for the kind of audiences that had turned up in their tens of thousands to see An Evening with Gary Lineker: it is not a traditional play, with references to populist, traditional entertainments as well as the modern ones of stand-up comedy, disco and self-defence. It is also entertaining, funny and sexy.

However, despite the best marketing efforts our money could buy, and enthusiastic young preview audiences, the media and critical response was extremely disappointing. So, here we are with a cracking show, concession- price seats at the very competitive price of pounds 4, in search of an audience who, we all complain, doesn't go to the theatre. No wonder. They don't even know we're here, waiting for them to enjoy us.

So who's to blame for this sorry situation? Me for having the temerity to produce less than traditional Hampstead fare? Advertising rates that outfits such as ours cannot afford? The funding situation that makes every risk taken a potential crisis? Arts editors for providing less and less space for features and reviews on theatre, thus enhancing not ours but our potential audience's sense that we're irrelevant? The critics for having, themselves, too narrow a frame of reference? Whoever, we are all the losers.

Yours faithfully,

JENNY TOPPER

Hampstead Theatre

London, NW3

14 December

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