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Honour Bayes: Theatre can't be bought & sold

By • West End
So this is what national pride feels like. It's cheesy but I can't resist saying that Danny Boyle's opening ceremony took Gold.

David Cameron, for one, agrees with me (I may have to take a wash). After heading a Government which has forced the Arts Council to cut 206 funded organisations and abolished the UK Film Council, Cameron has finally realised that the creative industries are some of the most successful we have.

"I think a very simple message today is that if you are involved in the creative industries, now is the time to come and invest in Britain," Cameron said rather smugly, his smooth features positively beaming at how brilliant we all are at entertainment.

But whilst I'm happy for the creative industries that made Cameron's notice (art, film, music, television and literature) one area that was conspicuously missing was theatre. As a theatre writer this put my back up, obviously. But as an arts writer it has stayed in my mind for longer than a simple case of pique would merit. Why was theatre absent?

A simple answer could be that he forgot, but in the highly contrived world of politics I doubt it.

Another could be that we are not as known internationally for our stage stars and so examples of them were avoided. But even putting aside the fact that British theatre is world renowned, until a family tragedy intervened, Mark Rylance was set to open the ceremony. Whilst his marvellous understudy Kenneth Branagh is a Name in film, Rylance's most famous role is Rooster in the blockbuster play Jerusalem. If a stage star was good enough for Boyle why not Cameron?

It seems to me it's a matter of commodification. Film, music, television and literature can be exported with great ease. They are art forms where the return of your investment can easily be totted up.

But though War Horse and Les Miserables show that high quality theatre can be successfully rolled out internationally, there is something in the liveness of the theatrical experience which is unique and impossible to mass produce.

You can market two witches on a t-shirt but you can't capture and sell the true effect of seeing (current lead) Rachel Tucker as Elphaba singing "Defying Gravity". The live experience is unquantifiable and so investment in theatre is not as attractive a prospect, or at least if you're Cameron it's not.

As an art form it's also harder to control, as Boyle's movingly left wing tribute to the NHS showed. Although film, music and literature can be controversial, once captured they become defined pieces which can be ignored or promoted.

With theatre you can never be sure the performers will say what you want them to. For all of the West End's polished homogony it's important to remember that we can be the badly behaved relation if we want to.

Boyle and Stephen Daldry cut their teeth at the Royal Court but it's their films that Cameron and his cronies will push. So instead of feeling put out at being left out, theatre should be proud; for one Prime Minister at least we're just too wild to be bought and sold.


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