Letter: There is nothing healthy about the state of British theatre

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The Independent Online
DAVID BRIERLEY says that "London has 300 theatre companies", which suggests companies where actors work together ("Enter cash, stage left?", Business, 15 March). In fact there are nothing like 300 theatre companies employing actors even on a casual basis. In Britain today there is not a single theatre company that offers permanent employment to actors. There are very few private companies that promote new plays in the West End and it is questionable whether there is any substantial audience for boulevard straight plays. Most of the numerous little off-West End pub theatres cannot even pay actors the Equity minimum wage.

In 1945, there were nearly 100 repertory companies in Britain. Where are they now? It is not just the mass public that has developed amnesia about live theatre and its unique qualities, pleasures and opportunities.

It is a myth that British theatre is healthy. In Germany there are regular companies in most towns. In France, Italy, Spain, and Scandinavia, theatre employs actors properly. But in Britain most people are too geographically remote from a theatre to know any longer what it is to be part of a habitual audience. Pub theatres are tiny, exclusive crumbs of comfort.

Making donations to non-profitable theatre companies tax-deductible will have little impact. Donors will get the tax advantage for their gifts rather than charitable companies being able to claim back the tax - that is all. That change might even make life worse for non-profitable companies since donors are unlikely to increase their generosity sufficiently to make up for the rebates presently obtainable by charities.

Tom Sutcliffe

London SW16