By John Roberts
This weekThe Stage’schief theatre critic ventured outside of the London boundaries and stepped into the borders of North Wales – only because, by his own admission, he was in the “region” giving a talk at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. Upon seeing Theatre Clwyd’s production ofCat on a Hot Tin Roof– he wentonto
Twitterto announce that the production is worthy of the London stage and wouldn’t look out of place on the stages of the Donmar or The National Theatre.
Now, this may on first read seem like a praise-worthy statement and one I am sure was meant in good spirit but scratch beneath the surface and, what you’re looking at is a point of view that London is the pinnacle of the arts scene and something that every regional theatre should be aspiring to.
We have to stop this constant comparison between London and the regions – it’s interesting that these statements only ever seem to come from those who are actually based in the English capital.Not only do these glib remarks undermine the hard work by hundreds of professionals up and down the country, who are working tirelessly to produce the highest quality product they can on what small amount of subsidy they get, (arts spend in London last year equated to £69 per person, compared to the rest of the UK at just £4.58 per person) but also proves just how out of touch our “national” theatre critics are getting.
This morning Mark Shenton published his daily blog in trade ragThe Stage– again talking about his aforementioned trip, brought us this little beauty, which, one can only presume, will hang above his head like an albatross for time to come.
“And there are, to be honest, only a handful of theatres that warrant regular coverage: apart from Stratford-upon-Avon and Chichester,
which are basically treated as if they’re London theatres (even the London Evening Standard still reviews them), these include Sheffield’s Crucible, Manchester’s Royal Exchange, the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, Curve in Leicester, and the Royal &Derngate in Northampton.”
But where are the theatres in Scotland or those in the very city his trip was for? No visit for The Everyman or Playhouse or The Unity. No mention of The Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh or the Citizen’s in Glasgow or even venues across the water in Belfast… the list of “worthy” venues are endless and to say that only a handful of venues deserve critical attention is both alarming and out of touch to the theatre scene the rest of us live and breathe on a daily basis.
Living in Liverpool – I am within easy reach of Manchester, North Wales, Birmingham, Leeds and can see a production in regional houses, number one venues, fringe and pop-up spaces every day and still not see even close to a tenth of the output these cities are producing. I would love to be able to cover every single production – I know I can’t and our teams across the UK do their hardest to cover as much as they can… In fact, last yearThe Reviews Hubreviewed over 3,300 productions – more than double the next leading publication (which was in factThe Guardian). Regional theatre is alive and is producing challenging, thought-provoking, daring andqualitywork on a regular basis. Of course, the venues will also produce work that is classed as “safe” or “classic” but that’s what makes the regions so exciting, there is literally something for everyone on any given day of the week.
Now if only the “national” critics left London more regularly and sat in auditoria they’ve never before graced with their presence, they may realise that regional theatre isn’t dying – it’s thriving. It is, in fact, the national critics themselves who face an inevitable demise. There are thousands of shows a year in the regions more than worthy of press recognition.
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