This year’s Theatre Awards UK ceremony sent a clear message to anyone with doubts about the state of our regional theatres. With awards being handed to Chichester Festival Theatre, Sheffield Theatre’s Crucible and West Yorkshire Playhouse, the evening simply refused to accept the notion that regional theatres, in all pockets of the UK, have suffered artistically under the onslaught of funding cuts in recent years.
However, recent reports suggest another wave of spending cuts in the arts sector is imminent. This week’s announcement that the Arts Council is cutting its staff by 21% has led some to question how effectively these reduced funds will be distributed as well.
With regional offices now covering vaster areas, what could this mean for theatre companies across the UK? Sir Nicholas Hytner is one to have leapt to the defence of theatres, arguing that, if anything, the initial cuts should be reversed.
The “double blow” of a loss of funding from both central government and local authorities, he says, has put theatres outside of the West End “in clear and present danger” – further cuts, Hytner adds, would be “madness”, tipping regional theatre output over the precarious edge it has been tiptoeing since the October 2010 spending review, and into a spiral of mediocrity.
But numerous theatregoers insist the quality of regional productions has, against all odds, managed to stay intact. “Regional theatre is certainly not over,” writes the Guardian’s Michael Billington. And in Charlotte Higgins’ recent feature on life after the last round of arts cuts, Sheffield’s Third Angel company remained defiant: “We’ve always said that we would carry on as long as we want to make shows together, and we still do.”
Could an existential threat to our regional theatres actually prove the catalyst for more innovative business models? There is an abundance of creativity to be witnessed at a regional level, but are there ways in which venues and companies could be more inventive and sustainable in their work?
Ultimately, would further cuts to regional theatres result in their inevitable demise or promote a healthy lack of complacency? Vote now and share your thoughts in the comments section below.