Theatre News

Donmar Warehouse and more lose NPO status

Donmar Warehouse
Donmar Warehouse
© Johan Persson

Donmar Warehouse is amongst those venues that have lost NPO status this year for the coming round of Arts Council funding.

NPOs are companies which receive a share of ACE’s funding allocation between April 2023 and March 2026.

This year’s funding announcement comes against the backdrop of the government-led policy of “Levelling Up” areas outside of the capital.

Adam Kenwright, Chair of the Donmar Warehouse commented: “The Donmar’s impact is wide, its voice powerful and the stories it tells are essential, making today’s decision a disappointing day not just for the Donmar, but for future generations of theatre makers. Since 2000 the Donmar has been supported by government to deliver high quality work on and off the stage that is accessible to the widest possible audiences. As we look ahead to our future, excellence and access will remain at the core of our mission. We will find a way to continue to deliver for audiences, the sector and our communities.”

In their application to ACE, the Donmar had committed to support the Government’s Levelling Up agenda by creating a fund using private support to amplify public funding, driving private money and building skills in Kent, the West Midlands and Nottinghamshire around headline projects, supporting local organisations to build skills and capacity. This was to have built on the Donmar’s work taking projects on UK tour (most recently Blindness, which helped theatres reopen post-pandemic in 2021) and into schools. Without public subsidy, this will no longer be viable. The Donmar was planning to support 17,000 children and young people over the investment period through this work, but this is now at risk.

The Donmar’s investment in diverse and emerging artists feeds the commercial sector in the UK, and is a trailblazer for British creative industries globally. The company has long been at the forefront of nurturing talent – not just with the Resident Assistant Director Scheme which has influenced the theatre landscape across the UK for the past 30 years, with alumni including Lynette Linton (AD, Bush Theatre), Rupert Goold (AD, Almeida Theatre and formerly Royal & Derngate Northampton) and Robert Hastie (AD, Sheffield Theatres); but also CATALYST, their paid skills development programme for future artists and administrators. This short-sighted and self-defeating approach in removing all subsidy will impact not only the company itself, but the essential training ground it offers, and the benefit to the entire theatre community.

Sam Mendes, film and stage director and founding artistic director of the Donmar: “Cutting the Donmar’s funding is a short-sighted decision that will wreak long lasting damage on the wider industry. The Donmar has been at the heart of British theatre for three decades, and has a hard won legacy of punching well above its weight in both its ambition and reach. It is a world renowned and hugely influential theatre, and the UK cannot afford to put it at risk.”

Kit Harington, actor: “When I played Henry V on stage at the Donmar at the start of 2022, it was the realisation of a dream I’d had since watching the play as a teenager. The experience of watching that play as a young student was the inception of my desire to work in this industry. I was lucky enough to perform the same part that so inspired me to local students on the Donmar stage…. these schools performances were the most thrilling shows we put on. It is vital and essential that students and young people are not denied opportunities to see live theatre like this in the future.”

Noma Dumezweni, actor: “There is nothing else like the excitement of live theatre – the connection, sense of communion and its shared experience. And the Donmar is unparalleled for creating that sense of deep connection with audiences so close to the performers. It is a vital venue for British theatre and the loss of subsidy is devastating”.

Alongside the Donmar, other venues to lose the status are the Hampstead Theatre, Oldham Coliseum, the Gate Theatre the English National Opera, which makes its home at the London Coliseum.

The Hampstead Theatre said in a statement: “Hampstead Theatre is disappointed and saddened by Arts Council England’s decision to cut the theatre’s funding. We will now consider how best to ensure the future of a company which nurtures and supports so many writers and which has for so long been an essential part of British theatre. In the meantime, our current programme of new plays will continue as announced and we thank all our supporters for their ongoing commitment to our work.”

The Watermill in Newbury has also lost its place as an NPO. Paul Hart, Artistic Director and Chief Executive and Claire Murray Executive Director of The Watermill commented:

“We understand that difficult decisions have had to be made as part of the Investment Programme. Arts Council England’s decision not to offer NPO funding to The Watermill Theatre presents a significant challenge. However, we remain committed to serving our audiences and the communities of West Berkshire and to contributing to the UK’s thriving cultural ecology.

We will now take some time to explore other funding options and partnerships that can enable us to continue our ambitious and exciting programmes on and off stage.

We’d like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to our Trustees whose support and guidance is invaluable. We’d also like to thank the brilliant team at The Watermill whose passion for creating great theatre, dedication to collaborating with our communities and commitment to nurturing and developing talent, is exceptional. We know with their support, along with that of our loyal audiences, donors and sponsors, we will find a way to navigate this challenge.”

Opera is also facing a tough time – as noted by journalist Alex Marshall, the English National Opera is no longer getting any regular funding (and may look to relocate to Manchester), the Royal Opera House down 10 per cent, Welsh National Opera down 34 per cent and Glyndebourne is down 50 per cent.

990 organisations (with 276 new companies) received a share of £446 million this year, with “Levelling Up” locations also seeing a significant increase in spend. Of this, 48 new companies are from theatre disciplines.

In total, 24 organisations plan to relocate from London from October 2024, including 18 NPOs. These include Headlong, the famed theatre company responsible for major touring and West End shows, as well as Paines Plough.

We will update this article as we crunch the numbers.