[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/94055?ns=guardian&pageName=Can+recession+resuscitate+our+theatre%3F+%7C+Patrick+Marmion%3AArticle%3A1306428&ch=Stage&c3=GU.co.uk&c4=Nicholas+Hytner+%28Media%29%2CTheatre%2CStage%2CWest+End%2CArts+funding%2CCulture+section&c6=Patrick+Marmion&c7=09-Nov-17&c8=1306428&c9=Article&c10=Blogpost&c11=Stage&c13=&c25=Theatre+blog&c30=content&h2=GU%2FStage%2Fblog%2FTheatre+blog[/img]The affluent days of government grants could end with the election – just the thing to give teeth to our idling arts sector
After a dozen fat years, it seems there will follow as many lean ones for the arts world. However politicians fudge it, the cuts that are coming after the election will be deep. They will also bring an end to the affluent salad days of culture feeding off government grants and corporate indulgence.
As Mark Ravenhill has argued, evermore sophisticated marketing strategies won't cover the shortfall in sponsorship. Jobs will be cut. Buildings may need to close. But this doesn't have to encourage a sense of mournful regret. After all, did the years of wealth not breed a culture of complacency, one of artistic indolence?
The West End cannot be blamed for following a populist path and next year people may continue to seek the escapism offered by catalogue musicals or the staging of reliable classics; the commercial sector will do what it must to make money. It need not disturb our slumbers.
However, institutions such as the National Theatre, which are likely to survive cuts, do have a duty to confront the realities faced by their audiences. But it's hard to imagine how they will do this. To my mind, not a single strong playwright or voice has emerged under either Trevor Nunn or Nicholas Hytner, both of whose reigns have coincided with New Labour's munificence. Instead, the National has supplemented stock repertory with established writers such as David Hare and dry formalists like director Katie Mitchell.
And we can forget about theatres such as the Donmar Warehouse taking a lead. Under Michael Grandage, the Donmar has become a salon for the theatrical in-crowd, churning out starry museum pieces. Its latest work, Life Is a Dream, starring Dominic West is a case in point. Nothing in this theatre, which is admired by so many, has done anything to challenge the status quo.
Even the fringe has become a mere stepping stone for those desperate to break into the theatrical mainstream. You need a long memory to recall how it once spawned theatrical mavericks such as Sarah Kane or Anthony Neilson. The absorption of Notting Hill's Gate Theatre into the paid-up establishment has typified the neutering of the once radical margins.
Those with an eye on the avant-garde might point to Battersea Arts Centre as an example of a venue doing something genuinely different. But even hailed and innovative work such as Punchdrunk's Masque of the Red Death was grounded in harmless gothic sensationalism. Nor is it clear how the childlike playfulness of alternative theatre companies such as Kneehigh and Told by an Idiot will find the teeth to fight the ideological and fiscal assault that is coming.
Meanwhile, where the Royal Court theatre may have been lauded recently for pushing the boat out with Lucy Prebble's Enron and Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem, both plays were a long time coming. There's hope, however, that the Court may yet provide a platform for something truly startling.
While hardship will not necessarily produce better art, standing outside official patronage might at least encourage artists to kick against the establishment rather than adorn it. The art we have enjoyed over the last 12 years has been wealthy, and wealthy art is supine.
Let us welcome the return of culture to its impoverished roots – a culture that's not so much top down as bottom up. It's futile to weep over what artists have lost when we can celebrate the freedom that comes from shedding corporate approval and government dependence.
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Guardian: Can recession resuscitate our theatre? | Patrick Marmion
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