Over 100 leading playwrights - including Caryl Churchill, Harold Pinter, David Hare, Michael Frayn, Peter Gill and Tom Stoppard as well as the authors of all of this year’s Whatsonstage.com Award Best New Play nominees – have signed a letter of opposition to Arts Council England’s proposed cut of funding to the Bush Theatre (pictured), the renowned new writing venue in Shepherd’s Bush, west London.

The Bush is one of the 194 arts organisations that were informed just before Christmas that they would have their funding cut or completely withdrawn. The Bush faces a loss of nearly 40 percent – a debilitating reduction of £180,000 to its current subsidy of £480,000 a year – from April, the start of the new financial year. The theatre has been told that, with just 81 seats, it does not represent value for money in reaching audiences.

The deadline is today for all organisations to present cases for objection, ahead of an Arts Council meeting on 23 January to decide their ultimate fates. Final decisions are expected to be confirmed next month. Several organisations – including Exeter Northcott, which only reopened last month after a year-long, £2.1 million redevelopment, paid for in large part by ACE grants - are reportedly considering legal action if funding withdrawal goes ahead. Many affected companies have this week organised email and letter writing campaigns, marches, meetings and other protests.

In their open letter, playwrights strongly urged the Arts Council to reconsider its position on the Bush which, they say, performs an important role in the development of modern drama as a whole. “Playwriting has always been at the heart of Britain’s theatrical life. Our playwrights are the envy of the world because there have been and are theatres able to devote resources to the development and presentation of their work. The Bush Theatre is unique as a theatre prepared to produce first plays, take risks on new playwrights and thus launch careers.”

The Bush Theatre opened in April 1972 in the upstairs dining room (previously used as Lionel Blair's dance studio) of the Bush Hotel in Shepherd's Bush, west London. Despite its size, the theatre has established a national and international reputation as a centre for new writing. Amongst the Bush's many playwright discoveries are Stephen Poliakoff, Snoo Wilson, Ron Hutchinson, Kevin Elyot, Billy Roche, Tony Kushner, Jonathan Harvey, Conor McPherson, Richard Cameron, Catherine Johnson, Tim Fountain, Georgia Fitch, David Eldridge and Charlotte Jones.

The theatre has also chalked up numerous tours and transfers. Last year, two of its premieres - Steve Thompson’s political satire Whipping It Up and Simon Bent’s adaptation of Swedish film Elling, both of which have been nominated for Best New Comedy in this year’s Whatsonstage.com Awards (click here to vote!) – moved on to extended West End seasons.

In addition to the aforementioned, other signatories of the Bush letter include playwrights Richard Bean, Alistair Beaton, Howard Brenton, Gregory Burke, David Edgar, Tanika Gupta, Christopher Hampton, Terry Johnson, Hanif Kureishi, Bryony Lavery, Alan Plater, Philip Ridley, Martin Sherman, Nicholas Wright, Colin Teevan and Laura Wade, novelists Peter Ackroyd, Margaret Atwood, William Boyd, Salman Rushdie, directors Mike Leigh and David Farr and this year’s Whatonstage.com Best New Play authors Samuel Adamson, Joe Penhall, Nick Stafford, Polly Stenham and Roy Williams.

The playwrights’ action follows last week’s vote of ‘no confidence’ in the Arts Council by leading members of actors’ union Equity (See News, 10 Jan 2008). Theatregoers’ can sign an email petition supporting the Bush via the theatre website.

- by Terri Paddock