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.