Saturday, 25 February 2006

Gunning The Curtain

I have recently been in some mild turmoil over the future of British theatre and, rather selfishly perhaps, the future for British playwrights in our native land.

Perhaps I'm worrying for nothing, but it seems to me and to many others in the business that the only plays that are getting put on centrally are either foreign or revivals whereas the provinces, slightly more daring though some may be, are generally relying on repetitive tours of The Best of the Eagles and amateur productions of Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals. Hardly what I, and other artistic snobs, consider to be real theatre. Those provincial houses that do produce tend to lead nowhere now, whereas once a transfer to the West End was almost always on the cards. Now there needs to be a clear runaway financial success before penny-pinching 'producers' will sit up and take notice.

And that right there is the problem. The plague of commercialism. Commercialism works for a lot of things - cinema, for example, because cinema is a popular convention that requirtes oodles of money to support. It does not, in my opinion, do anything for theatre - other than keeping the Mousetrap and Andrew Lloyd Webber in business. I think we all know the world would be better without Andrew Lloyd Webber's contribution to the theatre. Why has commercialism done this to the theatre? Why? Opera has managed to avoid it, but only by being viciously elitist. It seems to me that the theatre is being treated more and more like cinema, when it's not cinema. Cinema is big and bold and expensive. Theatre should be intimate, generally, and all about the art of it, rather than it's presentation. What it lacks in technical wizardry and awe-inspiring feats of the visual it ought to make up for in sheer craft and talent. But, alas, nowadays it does not. I largely blame modern 'producers'. These people have no interest in actual theatre. Typically they have money that they want to invest so they'll stick it in a theatre, force that theatre not to take risks and then they can also pretend they are cultured when, frankly, they're not. If we could just ensure the people in charge of theatres - the men with the money - had passion and courage for the art of the theatre. Then we'd see more varied plays, more exciting productions - who knows, it may make people once again interested in theatre, bringing in revenue other than old ladies who want to see yet another clairvoyant evening or night of 'entertainment' with Dominic Kirwan. It might give provincial theatres a new lease of life and make the high and mighty West End sit up and - pardon the pun - get its act together.

What I propose then is a new approach to theatre management. This is just an idea at the moment - I would need some kind of syndicate of playwrights or eccentric, rich, theatre-obsessed financial backers to make it reality - but what if one was to buy a theatre and adopt a laissez-faire approach to the finances. Let people put what they want on, when they want. The bare minimum is taken off ticket prices for the most basic maintenance of the actual building, and the rest goes straight to the artists. No vetting of content or censorship of subject matter. No elitism. No sort of traditional artistic director, who filters through the programme only what will sell to the public. Rather an artistic director who's only prejudice is against poor quality and the status quo. In short, a revolution - a return to the theatre of dreams. Let us give rebirth to post-war theatre and sire a new generation of Pinters, Ortons, Mamets, Albees and Stoppards. Let us give back to the theatre what we have denied it - freedom. In return, you can guarantee that theatre will take back the audiences that tv, cinema and Andrew Lloyd Webber have stolen if only she can have room enough to breathe.