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Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
As I have no right of reply in this debate, perhaps I may say how grateful I am that a number of distinguished Peers concerned with the theatre have put down their names to speak. I shall not refer to them all by name, but I should like to mention the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney. Later this month he has a significant milestone in a long and varied life and we hope we shall have him long with us in this cause.
Theatre is at the heart of British cultural life. Germany is famous for music, Italy for the visual arts, but Britain is the world centre for drama. The repertory theatre system is at the core of all this and historically has been community-based and a focus for community life. Repertory theatre is essentially building-based as opposed to touring company productions, most of which start in the regional and repertory theatres.
There are many good reasons why we need repertory theatre. I suggest that, foremost, repertory theatres are the cradle for the acting profession. Many of our great actors and actresses learnt their craft in repertory. Perhaps I may name but a few: Donald Sinden, Derek Jacobi, Albert Finney, Ian Richardson and John Gielgud. That is just a number from a huge selection who could be mentioned, not least the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who is with us tonight. The noble Lord subsequently became, among other things, a trustee of the Theatre of Comedy, a position in which I succeeded him some years ago. However, many famous directors, such as Richard Eyre and Trevor Nunn, also started in repertory.
All this is momentarily in crisis due to the year-on-year reduction in funding by the local community, by the regional arts boards and by central government. There is also competition from television and other activities. That has produced pressure to generate income, which means that marketing and administration costs tend to rise and artistic effort has to be curtailed. Moreover, sponsorship is daily getting more difficult and scarce. So there is a dreadful cycle of low salaries, reduced cast sizes and minimum sets, all of which is most unfortunate.
The fact is that symphonies are not created in concert halls, but plays are created in theatres. Indeed, not just actors and directors but playwrights, musicians, dancers, craftsmen and masses of technicians are all involved in this important process. The building-based reps are factories and retail outlets, all combined together in one great effort. It is a very unusual situation. There is also a mass of local people involved. Most front-of-house personnel work on a voluntary basis. The support and friends' organisations arrange open days, garden parties, fund-raising activities and events which are attended by celebrities. Those activities used to happen at the Redgrave Theatre of which, during the decade of the 1980s, I was the honorary president and which, sadly, has gone dark since that time like many other theatres.
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, it is very important that this debate has been initiated from the Opposition Benches. In paying tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, I do so not in any formal way but with sincere respect and appreciation of the strong realisation that he has that there exists in the theatre what I like to call a "complementary economy"--that is to say, not entirely mixed but working together and depending upon each other. It has long been my conviction that this is the way as far as concerns the theatre and it may also be the way as regards other economic areas. I am, therefore, very pleased to see my successor as chairman of the Theatres Advisory Council, the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, with us this evening. That council is an example of a body which covers the whole area of the theatre, both commercial and supported. It is an organisation which I believe to be valuable and one of which I now have the honour to be president.
In the four minutes at my disposal, and having thanked the noble Viscount for introducing the debate, I should like to stress that the emphasis here is on regional theatre. I shall concentrate my remarks on the absolutely vital importance of state support for regional theatre. Regional repertory theatre depends upon local government and national government money. If it does not receive that reasonable degree of support, it cannot survive. The record shows that such support has been declining, and there is already great difficulty in that respect with one or two valuable theatres being forced to go dark, while others are in peril. Therefore, we are in a position tonight where we must urge the Government to take positive action if we are to prevent what might be something in the nature of a disaster to this most valuable centre of British entertainment provision.
These regional theatres can act as a local focus to a community, as many noble Lords will know. They serve their localities, entertain visitors and can also act as a means of expressing regional and local identities. They are often a key educational resource. They can give children their first taste of live performance through theatre-in-education programmes, now severely curtailed by financial cuts, and they can help educate young people over a wide range of issues.
I should like to conclude by using a short quote from Sir Cameron Mackintosh, one of this country's leading commercial theatre producers and someone who learned his craft in the subsidised repertory sector. He said:
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, what I have to say in the very short contribution to which I am limited largely comes from the experience of Jill Freud (the wife of Sir Clement Freud, who was one of my colleagues in another place), who has run the Southwold summer repertory theatre for the past 15 years and has done the same at Aldeburgh for the past three or four years. Last night Mr. Mark Fisher made a speech there celebrating those 15 years.
Since the war Britain has built up the best regional theatre in the world, which is now seriously threatened by cuts, as previous speakers have said. This success has been possible because subsidy has allowed the producing companies to work with a high standard of actors, sets, costumes and good technical back-up and still sell tickets at a price that the public can afford.
In London the theatregoer has a large number of theatres from which to choose and he shops around for what appeals to him. With repertory, a town has one theatre with a variety of plays on a take it or leave it basis. The best reps build up a solid habit of theatre-going within the community. From the artistic director this requires a constant awareness of what his particular audience will enjoy. A new artistic director, taking up his appointment, may easily antagonise the local people by being too adventurous too soon, as happened in Salisbury with Deborah Paige and in Ipswich with Andrew Manley. Both are highly thought of, but neither took the time to bring their audiences with them. On the other hand, too many subsidised companies with a previously loyal audience have been given grants dependent upon their presenting work the Arts Council wishes to promote. One understands the principle, but audiences are easily lost and do not always come back.
The overall aim of grant giving bodies, whether local or national, should be to enable people to see the plays, shows, musicals, operas etcetera that they want to see. The prime objective should not be to promote innovative, "meaningful" or worthy theatre, although that can be part of it. In essence, it is patronising to say that to the public, "This is a play you should see; this is music we think you should learn to like". People will return to the theatre if they have had a good time there, and their tastes will develop and their judgment improve without any help from high-minded officials. No one reads Enid Blyton all their lives. Let people choose what they see but make sure that whatever is produced is of a good standard and affordable.
The financial help that all theatres need can come from several sources; commercial sponsorship backed by the Government's Pairing Scheme is a healthy compromise. When the Arts Council is involved there should be some element of subsidy given as a reward for having increased the percentage of seats sold. Funds should not be used solely to compensate a theatre for a half-empty house with a politically correct play. Part of the council's objective should be to fund work that will appeal--even sell out--and thereby ensure that everyone can afford a ticket.
The Minister should keep it in mind that a healthy theatre playing to good houses not only pays 60 per cent. of its way, but brings benefits to the whole locality--shops, restaurants, hotels and boarding houses, printers and other trades. Subsidiary jobs within the theatre provide full and part-time employment within the town. For example the Theatregoers Club of Great Britain sends six coachloads holding 53 ticket holders to the Southwold theatre each summer. They all shop and have a meal in the town. The local restaurants now advertise pre-theatre suppers and the Swan Hotel sends out the season's details on its mailing list in January.
Lord Rix: My Lords, I believe I can claim to be the only Member of your Lordships' House who has performed in well over 100 plays in weekly rep for nigh on three years; lost his trousers 12,000 times in 12 plays over 27 years as an actor-manager at the Whitehall and Garrick Theatres and served as chairman of the drama panel of the Arts Council for nearly eight years before resigning at the Arts Council's own cuts in drama subsidies--subsidies which have struggled to maintain our regional theatre.
When I was nobbut a lad in Yorkshire, weekly rep was the norm in most towns and cities. A few such as Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool were rather grander with two- and three-weekly rep. But, in spite of only five days to rehearse and study, everyone concerned gained valuable experience enabling them to go on to bigger and better things, as we have already heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney.
With the advent of television those so-called commercial reps began to disappear and subsidised regional reps came into being--many operating in equally new, purpose built theatres--but now presenting plays every three or four weeks with a resident company.
Alas, although there are approximately 69 producing regional theatres, cuts in grants force the majority to produce smaller cast plays and the idea of a resident company has long gone out of the window. Indeed, the Wyndham Report, published tomorrow by the Society of London Theatre, emphasises this lack of investment and reminds us that,
So, without repertory, how can young theatre professionals gain experience before being thrown into the all-consuming maw of television? I consulted three knowledgeable theatre gurus: Ian Brown, the professor of drama at Queen Margaret College in Edinburgh, the oldest and largest drama conservatoire in Scotland who was, at one time, the drama director at the Arts Council when I was the chairman there.
Then comes Peter James, another principal of a distinguished drama college--LAMDA, the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art--and the former artistic director of the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, and finally my son Jonathan who is a writer and a lecturer on theatre. Their suggestions might stir up some interest in the outer reaches of officialdom, bringing forth fresh ideas for funding their development. Ian Brown takes advantage of the debate today on the Scottish system of four-year honours degrees by offering a final year in which a significant part requires students to gain experience by forming and performing in an acting company, presenting work, mainly on tour, but sometimes in a short resident season elsewhere in Scotland.
My son Jonathan, too, tackles the problem of highly populated urban areas, suggesting that we should learn from the time when theatre was at its most popular, when it was primarily a varied and lengthy entertainment which audiences could join at any time. A night at the theatre could include short plays, improvisations, singing, dancing, video, stand-up comedy, acrobatics, satirical sketches, local crimes and political shenanigans created afresh each evening, thus allowing young writers, actors, singers, comics and all those other practitioners a chance to try, to fail, to learn, to produce innovative work. It will create new
Well, there you have it--three ideas which are all complementary and worthy, perhaps, of a modicum of the £290 million promised today for new companies, new work, new venues and new audiences, thus ensuring that the one profession in which we are world leaders will continue to recruit the artists it deserves. Let the Government heed Matthew Arnold,
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I too wish to thank my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein for raising this important matter. At this point I should declare two interests. First, I am a governor of the Guildford School of Acting, near where I live, and, secondly, my son and my daughter-in-law are both in the acting profession.
I want to start by referring to the sad plight of the Greenwich Theatre which was forced to close in March after its grant was slashed by the London Arts Board, which I understand is a subsidiary--if that is the right word--of the Arts Council. The situation faced by the Greenwich Theatre is not an isolated one. Many small regional theatres are worried about their future. Of course, I understand the distinction between a theatre such as the Greenwich Theatre and the true repertory to which the noble Lord, Lord Rix, referred. There is a difference there that I recognise. The true repertory theatre is a rather rare phenomenon these days, sadly so in the light of the incredible experience it has provided for actors in the past and for the profession taken as a whole.
It is ironic that the Greenwich Theatre has suffered in the way that it has. Before the election, noble Lords opposite, and their right honourable colleagues in another place, wrote in their manifesto:
The Greenwich Theatre had a very wide appeal. A large take-up on concessionary tickets is generally accepted as a good indicator of the diversity of an audience's economic profile. The theatre sold many more of those kinds of tickets than theatres of a similar kind in the district. Given that background, it was all the more surprising that the London Arts Board cut the grant to the Greenwich Theatre. I can only think that that unfortunate decision was based on some other motive, possibly along the lines referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley.
The London Arts Board, presiding over a number of theatres in terms of grant, has apparently lost track of £650,000 in its current budget. Let us hope that when it finds the missing money, which was referred to recently in publicity, it will be able to reallocate it to the Greenwich Theatre. I very much hope so. I hope that the noble Lord will make inquiries into the matter. It
The Greenwich Theatre was the only repertory-style theatre in the south-east of England. I am told that it was the only one anywhere between London and Calais. Calais is not in Britain, and not in the compass of the London Arts Board. But the fact is that there are very few theatres of that kind in the south-east and this one should not have been allowed to sink.
Of course, the crisis facing the Greenwich is not unique. In my own town, Guildford, the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, which is well managed and has offered many excellent productions recently, is also facing a funding crisis. It, too, has experienced a cut in funding not dissimilar to that at Greenwich.
I fully appreciate that it is not possible wholly to support theatres by grants alone. But perhaps I may make a final constructive point. One way forward would be to exempt the cost of live theatre tickets from VAT. Such a concession would do more than anything else to help the arts nationwide and increase their viability at a stroke. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to that proposal. I very much look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.
Lord Chorley: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Viscount for initiating this short debate. In view of the number of speakers--including, I hope, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, who is to speak in the gap--I suspect that I shall have time to make only one main point, which can be easily stated. It is that healthy and vibrant regional repertory theatres are of considerable importance--some would say vital importance--to the work of our great national theatres, and, I suspect, also to what is usually known as West End theatre, the so-called commercial sector.
I shall not, therefore, go over the ground that has already been well covered by the noble Viscount and other speakers, who have amply demonstrated the funding problems which beset our regional theatres. "Crisis" would not be too strong a word.
My appreciation of the importance of our regional repertory theatres arises from the period from the early 1980s when I was a director of the Royal National Theatre, and subsequently a trustee of the National Theatre Foundation. One came to realise how important regional repertory theatre was in feeding the great national theatres, and the West End. Regional rep fed us with productions, with new writing and scripts, gave new writers their first chance, and provided what might be called "on-the-job training" for young actors destined to go on to higher things. A number of noble Lords have referred to that. Similar points can be made as regards young directors and producers. The noble Viscount referred to Sir Richard Eyre, who started in provincial rep and is tireless in drawing attention to its importance. It is provincial rep that is our great, and perhaps unique, nursery school for talent.
I could go on in this vein at some length. However, time is short, and I shall therefore confine myself to one other example; namely, the importance of provincial rep in bringing on, and training in the craft skills: the costume makers, the set designers and builders, the lighting people--the back-room boys who are an essential component in making a play a great experience. The effect of the budget cuts is to economise on sets in the extreme, that leads to bare stages and modern dress. Sometimes that can be effective. I well remember Sir Peter Hall's brilliant production of "Coriolanus", which for budget reasons had to be done in modern dress. As a result it was a much more immediate production. Nevertheless, relentless budget pressures mean that the craft side of our theatre is dying.
There is another side to all this; namely, the effect of budget cuts on the national theatres which feeds back to the regions. Last year, for example, the Royal National Theatre could afford to play only 60 per cent. of repertory compared with five years ago; nor can the National afford to take the same risks with new productions as it used to. It simply has to play safe as a result of budget constraints. That has affected the amount of work taken from regional rep.
Britain unquestionably has by far the best theatre in the world. It has depended crucially on the symbiotic relationship between the three sectors. It has depended also on an imaginatively devised, adequately funded, arm's length system. We are in danger of killing it by starvation. One expects a rather less philistine attitude than is so far evident from the party that devised the system when it was in power in the late 1940s.
The noble Lord the Minister is an honourable man, and a cultivated man. His right honourable friend the Secretary of State is equally honourable and cultivated--we are lucky to have him. I do not wish to seem a Mark Antony making his funeral oration, because undoubtedly the Secretary of State is no Brutus; he is indeed an honourable man. I do not say that in any sarcastic sense; nor do I think anybody could accuse the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, of being, in Shakespeare's words, a lean and--
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