At the end of a successful tenth anniversary year which opened with the West End transfer of its Timothy West-headed King Lear, one of the UK's leading touring companies, English Touring Theatre, is facing financial crisis and has appealed to Arts Council England for assistance.

Though the full extent and circumstances of the current crisis are not yet known, ETT's management last week discovered that its financial position is not what it had been led to believe. One member of staff - who cannot be named yet for legal reasons but is presumed to be in the finance department - has resigned and accounts are now being urgently reconstructed.

Speaking to, artistic director Stephen Unwin explained: "We don't know how much money we're under. We don't know where that money is, whether it has left the organisation, whether it's a matter of financial mismanagement or what. We just don't know what's happened."

"It's like an act of terrorism," Unwin admits, "it's as if somebody has just flown a plane into my theatre company." And, although he emphasises that this is a one-off cash-flow "nightmare" rather than a threat to the long-term viability of ETT, the company's current uncertainty means that "it's incredibly difficult - in fact, ultimately, just wrong - to commit to projects. We could turn over a stone and discover something very horrible."

As a result, two tours planned for early 2004 - the premiere of Richard Bean's Honeymoon Suite (which will still fulfil its planned January run at the Royal Court) and, more significantly for the company's bottom line, a high-profile revival of Edward Albee's classic Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, that was tipped for the West End - have been cancelled. The company is aiming to resume touring in autumn 2004.

In the meantime, ETT has secured a "sizeable" advance on next year's allocated £700,000 funding from Arts Council England, which has allowed it to pay off creditors, complete the final weeks of its current tour of Romeo and Juliet and honour its commitment to the Royal Court for Honeymoon Suite (See News, 4 Nov 2003).

The Arts Council has issued a supportive statement saying that it "sets great store in English Touring Theatre's work. We are working closely with the company to help them address the current issues, and are impressed both by their approach to this unfortunate situation and the imagination with which they are looking at future opportunities for development."

A similar statement from ETT chairman Jeremy Newton adds that the company's board "retains complete confidence in the artistic director (Unwin), the executive director (Tim Highman) and the remaining staff".

Over the past ten years, ETT has presented more than 30 productions, several of which have garnered awards and transferred to the West End, as well as touring countrywide. In addition to King Lear, other recent ETT award winners have included Ghosts, with Diana Quick and Daniel Evans, and the world premiere of Peter Gill's The York Realist.

- by Terri Paddock