[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/55962?ns=guardian&pageName=A+golden+age+for+theatre%3F+Yes+and+no+%7C+Lyn+Gardner%3AArticle%3A1313888&ch=Stage&c3=GU.co.uk&c4=Theatre%2CWest+End%2CStage%2CCulture+section&c6=Lyn+Gardner&c7=09-Dec-03&c8=1313888&c9=Article&c10=Blogpost&c11=Stage&c13=&c25=Theatre+blog&c30=content&h2=GU%2FStage%2Fblog%2FTheatre+blog[/img]By all means let's celebrate British theatre, but there's more to life than London – and we shouldn't be complacent about the future
It's good to see theatre being celebrated as it was in the pages of the Guardian yesterday, but as several contributors to the website have already noted, Mark Lawson and Michael Billington's pieces only tell part of the story. All those mentioned deserve their place in the rollcall, just as the recent winners of the Evening Standard awards do too, but there is another narrative that explains the buoyant state of British theatre.
British theatre has an iceberg-like structure: narrow at the top, wide at the base. Theatremakers and audiences are engaged in huge amounts of activity below the waterline, and often evade the attention of those who have their eyes fixed only on the top. If we want to talk about a golden age – perhaps golden promise is a better phrase? – we should recognise that none of this is happening in isolation. It's happening because of so much has been going on, sometimes invisibly to many journalists and critics, over the last 10 years, and which continues, often against the odds and despite the huge slash in grants for the arts.
This activity includes many things: Scratch Nights at BAC, where Punchdrunk tried out their early work, and where Thea Sharrock, one of those featured in the article, got her first break. The small-scale and rural touring circuit. The young producers such as Fuel alongside stalwarts such as Arts Admin, who support artists both as they start out but also later in their careers. The National Theatre of Scotland, who broke the mould. The supportive initiatives that have come from companies such as Improbable and Pilot who are not just making theatre but thinking about it too.
Experimenters like the Pacitti Company, Theatre Rites, Fevered Sleep, Nic Green, Action Hero, Chris Goode, Uninvited Guests, No Fit State Circus and Dreamthinkspeak. Iniatives such as Spill, Forest Fringe and Allotment. Bold theatres like the Royal and Derngate in Northampton, Bristol Old Vic and the Drum in Plymouth. And Contact, which genuinely supports the innovative and, even more generously, knows when to send it out into the world. (What is Rupert Goold talking about when he says the regions are moribund?) I could go on, because this includes a great deal of the past, too: companies from The People Show to Frantic Assembly, whose influence can be seen everywhere on our stages today, to unsung heroes such as writer Robert Homan.
Successes such as those celebrated in the Guardian yesterday don't, in other words, spring fully formed. What feels good at the moment is that theatres are waking up to the fact that they are part of a complex web of activity, and that they must look out, not inwards. Under Dominic Cooke, we've seen the Royal Court extending its boundaries, whether that's putting a caravan on Sloane Square or giving house room to Tim Crouch's The Author. Walk into James Macdonald's production of Cock at the Court or Theresa Heskins's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and you can immediately spot the influence of visual and physical theatre. The National has been a success under Nick Hytner not just because he puts on David Hare, but also War Horse and The 14th Tale.
This is not an either/or narrative, as it's so often portrayed. British theatre feels like it's in a good place at the moment because everything is getting mixed up, and people are less concerned by the definitions. Next month, Nic Green's remarkable Trilogy will play at the Barbican, BAC and the Nuffield Lancaster. As I've suggested before, the question is not what theatre is, but what, and where, theatre can be.
How long will that last? The continuing financial storm is not going to be an easy ride, and theatre will be hit by a double whammy: a reduction of the monies from the treasury to the Department for Culture Media and Sport, and also by local authorities desperately looking to make savings. So while there's plenty to celebrate, it's also time to think differently. It's time for theatres and theatremakers to stop owning and start sharing, to become less reliant on subsidy, to rethink how buildings can best be used to benefit the whole theatre ecology, and to sort out touring, which is a life blood that we've foolishly allowed to drain away. Oh, and it's time to remind both funders and commentators to keep an eye on the bottom of the British theatre iceberg. Without it, the top will simply melt and crumble away.
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Guardian: A golden age for theatre? Yes and no | Lyn Gardner
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