The National Theatre receives £16.7 million each year from the Arts Council, and while any money invested into the arts is welcomed, does it fulfil the requirement of making theatre assessible to all? Does it, after all, deserve the title of ‘National’, when it is so London-centric?
Their ticket prices are undeniably cheap, starting from £15 and offering a ‘entry pass’ for 16-25-year olds with the offer of tickets for £7.50. This is a brilliant step towards making theatre more accessible, especially to young people whose future interest in theatre might rely on its accessibility.
However, while I come from a far from impoverished household, and one which has a genuine interest in theatre, the sixty-pound train ticket and almost a day’s worth of travelling makes it near impossible for me to take any advantage of this. While extortionate train prices might not seem like the fault or responsibility of the National Theatre, it seems an obvious solution for them to have a Northern base which puts on the same shows as its London counterpart- as well as using some of the funding to produce shows of its own.
Many of the well-reviewed shows remain in London
The issue is the same with the National Gallery and Portrait Gallery, that while using government funds to provide free and unlimited access to some of the best art in the country, is undoubtably noble, the fact remains that this only really benefits thirteen percent of the UK’s population. While theatres such as the Northern Stage in Newcastle do receive Arts Council funding, the amount does not compare to that given to the National Theatre, and as a result their productions remain small scale, without any of the star names who feature in London. The fact remains that currently 32 percent of arts organisations who receive government funding are in London.
At the moment, they have sixteen productions in their new upcoming season, all of which are taking place in London theatres. They claim that touring makes up for this. But their last large-scale tour was in 2017, and even then, only ten shows were included, a fraction of what has been put on in London in the mean time. Many of the large, well-reviewed shows remain in London, or even tour internationally rather than making their way around the country. An example is this is current production of ‘The Lehman Trilogy’, starring famous actors Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles, which has been transferred to New York but otherwise has remained in the London theatre circle.
Touring may be expensive, but the RSC, while receiving less money from the Arts Council, still manages to make the trip from their base in Stratford to tour more frequently than the NT. The RSC has three of their new productions coming to the Royal Theatre in Newcastle during the next year, while there is no sign of the National Theatre.
A poor substitute for the real thing
The National Theatre, of course, would argue that this is unfair. They use cinema broadcasts as a lazy and cheap way to appease the murmurs of discontent from the North and Midlands, and back the claim that their funding is benefitting the entire country. But anyone who understands the value of live theatre, which you would hope the director of the National Theatre would, appreciates that this is a poor substitute for the real thing.
They are better than nothing and would certainly act as a good support alongside more frequent tours or a season at a ‘National’ Northern Theatre, but on their own they seem merely to legitimise the minimal attention paid to the rest of the country.
Photo by Julius Jansson on Unsplash