December 13, 2019

According to Sir Ian McKellen UK Theatre is in crisis.

Actor Ian McKellen was reported as saying that the UK theatre is failing and all because there is a dearth of ‘rep companies’. He told The Reader’s Digest that “The situation is desperate. There are no [resident] companies in this country – not even the National Theatre has one. There’s a desert,” he said.

OK so the practice of a new play every week and a week’s rehearsal doesn’t happen anymore but it does not mean there is a theatrical “desert”. It may be struggling due to savage cuts resulting in ludicrously high tickets prices and the disenfranchising of a section of the population but it is not dead.

His remarks to The Reader’s Digest coincided with a meeting in London where delegates of the UK’s regional theatres raised their concerns about current funding.

Giles Croft of Nottingham Playhouse told Dominic Cavendish of The Daily Telegraph that Sir Ian “doesn’t understand how regional theatre operates these days”. He argued that subsidised theatres such as his own preferred to build relationships with a group of actors. This method enabled them to take on different roles through a season yet still the freedom to pursue other projects.

Let’s be positive. There are still some committed  hard-working companies out there, especially in the ‘regions’,  producing exciting work. New companies even in this dire recession are still emerging. Even a town such as Reading saw the launch this year of two new companies – Reading Between the Lines and Reading Rep. Both are professional companies and have sold out their first two productions and confidently launched their inaugural seasons. These new companies are both producing affordable professional theatre in a harsh environment so it’s not all bad.  Paul Stacey, Artistic Director of Reading Rep has linked his company with Reading College. He wrote on Reading’s blog…

“The notion of an academic institution tied to a fully professional theatre company has worked at a number of places in America: Yale Repertory Theatre and Yale University, American Repertory Theatre and Harvard University, La Jolla Playhouse and UC San Diego. It’s a model that has become almost obsolete in this country, but the two entities complement one another.”

It’s one way I suppose but we need, as Danny Boyle recently said, “modest but sustained” funding if we are to survive.


1 Comment on According to Sir Ian McKellen UK Theatre is in crisis.

  1. I admire McKellen’s work enormously but think he’s gone slightly overboard here. I do agree that the loss of the rep system is a great shame, however, and funding aside, have noticed that many actors are not as versatile, as trained in many styles or willing to throw themselves in at the deep end anymore. The regions in the UK produce what I think is some of the finest theatre you can see anywhere – full of heart, creativity, and innovation – and people living in those areas seem to agree (as well as being extremely grateful that they can see such a range of productions in their home town). But we will need funding to keep theatre alive and in rude health and many believe we are not a priority.

    As for the comment towards the end of your article, you have to take EVERYTHING ‘Daily Mail’ readers say with a huge vat of salt, in my experience…

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