Disgrace at the Arts Council

I have had a few shocks this weekend. A neighbour has run off with a girl half his age and left his wife and four children. My old friend Kevin Henriques, arts sub extraordinaire on the FT, cricket and jazz lover, has been found dead in his flat. I looked at the drinks bill for my son’s thirtieth birthday lunch in Terence Conran’s Orrery restaurant in Marylebone. 

But nothing has been quite so shocking as the news of what the Arts Council plans to do next spring, cutting funds for the Bristol Old Vic, the Northcott in Exeter, the London Bubble, the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford, and the National Student Drama Festival.

Of course unpopular decisions have to be made from time to time. But the treatment of the theatres in Bristol and Exeter is particularly disgraceful: the Old Vic is the oldest working theatre in Britain and has been brought to its knees by bad management, a bad board, and bad artistic appointments: it is the Arts Council’s duty to rectify this situation, not endorse it.

And Exeter and Guildford, both theatres dating from the brave new world of subsidised reps in the mid 1960s, should be treasured, not trashed by the funding nonentities who decide these things.

Some fat bloke from the South West branch of the Arts Council, commenting on the fact that the Northcott has been closed for a £2.1m refurbishment, partly funded by the Arts Council itself, said he had “concerns in a number of areas” and that the Northcott audience, though loyal, was “static.”

Apparatchiks and middle management freeloaders are always anxious to manipulate an audience to their own PC fantasies and knackered, do-gooding ideologies. If I was a member of the “static” Northcott audience, I’d mobilise myself and my fellows immediately and go round to the fat bloke’s house and rearrange his furniture.

The Northcott is damned lucky to have had Ben Crocker as its artistic director these past ten years, and Crocker at least deserves the chance to kick on with the Northcott in the new building. I’m glad to see that local MP Ben Bradshaw is right behind him.

As for Guildford, that’s another example of Arts Council “trendiness,” suspicious of any venue that smacks of commercial success rather than experimental failure. I dare say the fat blokes think that the Guildford audience is “static” in a similar way to the one in Exeter with the additional objection that well known actors sometimes appear on the stage there. 

What they don’t care about is the historical significance of a theatre like Guildford, and its essential function of cultural provision in an area that has already lost such local theatres as the Redgrave at Farnham and the Adeline Genee at East Grinstead.

The London Bubble Theatre Company has been a unique touring outfit in London parks and schools for several generations and has always maintained high standards and a quick response to changing realities in education and society.

Richard Eyre wrote in th Guardian on Saturday that the arts must invest taxpayers’ money in evolving “a strategy that enbraces the departments of both culture and education to invest in the performers and the audiences of the future.” So doing away with something like the London Bubble will really help towards achieving that clearly correct and admirable objective, won’t it? 

And as for the National Student Drama Festival, that really is spoiling the ship for a ha’porth of tar and sounds merely stupid as well as vindictive. THe NSDF has been a seedbed of talent for years and hosts an utterly unique confluence of students, professionals and journalists that should be the envy of the world, not the object of the fat blokes’ scorn.

What with all this and the troubles at the Derby Playhouse I’m beginning to feel positively depressed. I shall have to go and see another pantomime, unless the Arts Council find a way of closing down all the subsidised theatres that put them on at this time of year. And that wouldn’t surprise me one jot. 

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