Brexit: the death of British Theatre?


With Brexit just around the corner and still no prospect of a deal with the EU any time soon, more and more questions are being raised. One question that has not been front and centre of debates is the impact that Brexit will have on the creative industries in the UK, most particularly theatre. A recent poll by the Arts Council England showed that only six percent of organisations were not concerned about economic uncertainty. But is this worry justified or will Brexit highlight just how resilient the UK’s creative industry is?

The main point of concern for many industry professionals is the likelihood of restricted freedom of movement post-Brexit which is currently allowed between EU countries. Sir Nicholas Hytner, former director of the National Theatre, in a recent interview with The Guardian said, “We are so dependent on ideas, talent, people moving freely. Freedom of movement was nothing but good for us”, furthering his negative forecast of events by describing Brexit as “an enormous black cloud on the horizon”. Indeed, Hytner’s idea that art should not be constrained by borders is one that is shared amongst the majority of industry professionals, with the Creative Industries Federation finding that 96% of its members voted Remain in the 2016 referendum.

It is argued that the closing of the UK’s borders will decrease the pool of creative talent available to UK theatre companies and decrease the number of partnerships with EU organisations. In particular, touring companies may face increased administrative costs due to the complications that the loss of free movement will create. Members of touring companies will most likely have to obtain visas for the countries that they travel in, extra documents for the temporary movement of goods, and there may also be more complex tax procedures and custom checks. This may limit the ability of certain companies to tour, most particularly smaller companies whose financial backgrounds are smaller and less secure. Furthermore, the closing of the UK’s borders may also disincline foreign companies from including the UK in their tours, detracting from the currently rich portfolio of theatre on offer in the UK as a result of its internationality. 

The other main impact that Brexit will have on the UK theatre industry is the decrease in funding from EU organisations such as the Creative Europe Programme. According to the Arts Council England, over £345 million was received from the EU by English organisations between 2007 and 2016. These funds significantly aid smaller organisations to realise their artistic goals and so the withdrawal of these funds has created worries that the UK’s creative industry will increasingly only be open to those with the financial ability to do so, furthering the elitism within the industry. With economic uncertainty ever-growing, government funding for the arts is being drastically cut. Thus, not only are current theatre companies having to work harder to find the funding they need, but the nurturing of future talent is also being constrained, potentially stunting the future of the UK’s creative industry. 

Of course, recent figures have shown that the impact of Brexit has not yet had a detrimental impact on UK theatre. In fact, in 2017 more than fifteen million theatre tickets were sold in London’s West End – the highest number since records began thirty years ago. This nine percent boost in revenue has been attributed to the post-Brexit tourist boom, signalling that Brexit has had some positive benefits. However, whether this increase in ticket sales will last is not certain. Many of these ticket sales can be said to reflect recent commercial successes such as Hamilton and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, with no indication that this increase in ticket sales has benefited smaller productions.  

Brexit can, therefore, be said to cast a doubtful shadow over the future of the UK creative industry. Cuts in funding will surely affect the output of projects and the restriction to freedom of movement will certainly change how shows are produced, most significantly for smaller companies. It is hard to say how the UK will be affected for certain, but hopefully its international reputation for the arts will withstand this drastic change in circumstances and continue to allow the UK to produce great quality theatre both domestically and internationally. 

Photography: Creative Commons 

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