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National Youth Theatre and Contact, Manchester: Putting young people centre stage

With National Youth Theatre Chair Dawn Airey and Artistic Director Paul Roseby
With National Youth Theatre Chair Dawn Airey and Artistic Director Paul Roseby

In this age of extremes, I often find myself at the sharp end of funding squeezes, local authority cuts, and am continually alarmed by the devastating demise of arts in our state schools.

As you can imagine, it truly depresses me. 

So, I was delighted to be invited to a soft-launch of the National Youth Theatre’s award-worthy £4m refurbished premises on Holloway Road.

The National Youth Theatre’s HQ, Holloway Road, London

The organisation nurtured Daniel Craig, Helen Mirren, Zawe Ashton and many more of our theatre legends.

Speaking at the supporters event, dynamic NYT CEO and Artistic Director Paul Roseby said: “Cuts to the arts in our state schools have led to a significant pressure on organisations like ours that work with young people to bridge the gap. What’s going on across these revitalised spaces here are all about giving young people the chance to start again. Failure is what we are about, and we embrace that as much as success.”

He continued: “If you are a youth organisation you have to stick your neck out; it’s now more important than ever before.” 

Certainly, school reforms have caused pupils to move away from arts subjects such as dance, music and art, and towards more traditional academic subjects such as geography and English. What’s more, recent analysis of government data shows that the number of GCSE music and drama students has fallen by a fifth over the last decade.

Outside the M25, Manchester’s Contact Theatre on Oxford Road, closed in 2017 but has also just reopened following a £6m ‘youth led’ revamp. 

First established as a theatre in 1972, in 1999 Contact reinvented itself as a multi-disciplinary creative space specialising in producing work with, and providing opportunities for, young people aged 13 to 30. 

Contact Young Company, Everything All of the Time

What’s so brilliant about Contact is under Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Matt Fenton, this significant refurbishment was led by a dedicated team of young people at Contact – who had their say on everything from light fittings to consultations with the architects.  

Speaking at the Press Night of Contact Young Company’s excellent show Everything All of the Time, Fenton said: “Young people should have access to free, high-quality and world-class creative resources to express themselves, to find their politics, find themselves and to then go out into the world and do amazing things. Contact has always done that, but this building now allows us to do that at such a higher level.” 

The iconic Contact, Oxford Road in Manchester

There has been a radical growth in the knowledge economy and creative industries over the past decade. It goes without saying that an education that includes creative subjects facilitates critical thinking and increases emotional resilience.

Quite simply, it is a proven fact how small investments return massively more than was spent and the cultural impact it has on our children is huge. What might a viable, authentic, enduring kind of ‘levelling up’ look like?

Nobody I speak to understands what it means – despite the government’s levelling-up fund of £4.8bn, and places now bidding for help with “town and high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural heritage assets”. 

Anyway, according to a recent report UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre cultural organisations across the UK save the NHS £102 million a year thanks to the physical and mental health benefits to attendees.

Remarkably, the report found that the NHS saves a yearly total of £11.91 for every person partaking in such an activity, from a reduction in GP visits and use of psychotherapy services.

But as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, the National Youth Theatre and Contact investing in these spaces for the next generation of dramatic talent offers us all hope. I left both occasions feeling a sense of optimism that I had not felt for some years.

There is an overwhelming sense, too, that we are at a turning point and that the arts can and must play a leading role in developing talent, protecting communities, as well as in fighting cuts in higher education and cultural education in schools.

It demonstrates, quite pertinently, that in order avoid widening inequality of access to the arts, that theatres across the country must enact their civic duty – not only to plug the gaps, but to truly level up every part of the UK.

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Jonathan Harvey: ‘Good drama should challenge you and go to places that you think that you might not want to go.’

18 months into the Doomsday pandemic, Liverpool’s Everyman theatre has re-opened and restaged Jonathan Harvey’s Our Lady of Blundellsands.

This twisted new play – that ran for just five performances before the first national lockdown in March 2020 – tells the story of the Domingo family who have plenty of skeletons in their closets. 

Harvey – best known for the cult sitcom Gimme Gimme Gimme and the astounding 1990s gay coming-of-age drama Beautiful Thing — is one of Liverpool’s most acclaimed writers and on good form as we chat via Zoom. “I wanted to write a play that on the surface is a comedy but is telling some dark truths about how f***** up this family is,” Harvey explains.

Beautiful Thing (1996) Film4 Productions, World Productions

“Good drama should challenge you and go to places that you think that you might not want to go. I’m really interested in twisted, dark secrets really.”

Nick Bagnall’s deliciously dark production boasts an impressive ensemble of actors, all of whom relish the chance to sink their teeth into Harvey’s witty dialogue. One liners whiz across the stage like poison arrows, some of them loaded with genuine moments of hilarity and melancholy. Josie Lawrence plays Sylvie, a tragic Norma Desmond figure basking in the long-faded glory of a cameo on ‘Z-Cars’ during the sixties. 

There’s an almost vaudevillian edge to several of the play’s most inventive set pieces, with tragedy smacking up against emotional slapstick to bizarrely comic effect. What, I ask, are his favourite things about the Our Lady of Blundellsands cast this time around? “Three of them weren’t in it before so they have done a terrific job of slotting in,” he says.

“Josie Lawrence is incredible and never misses a laugh, she knows how to give an audience what they want,” he says. “I have been a massive fan of Mickey Jones for years, Gemma Brodrick, who plays Alyssa, just really cracks me up and is that authentic Liverpool voice, Jo Howarth inhabits the role and has found a real playfulness to the character. Nathan is an actor I’ve worked with the most, and he’s great, versatile, and very bright and Nana is solid, and you feel very safe whenever he’s on stage.”  

Josie Lawrence as Sylvie in Our Lady of Blundellsands

Our Lady of Blundellsands is Harvey’s 25th stage play and reunites him with director Nick Bagnall, who acted in Hushabye Mountain in the 90’s. I ask what makes their partnership so special. “Listen, I’ve worked with a lot of directors who haven’t worked with a living writer before,” he stresses. 

“Nick really understands the play and we are very much on the same page. He’s just inventive, he never loses his temper. That level of patience is impressive. Nick gets my writing, and some directors don’t like the writers’ giving notes or being involved and he welcomes it. I think the world of him.” 

Jonathan Harvey & director Nick Bagnall in rehearsal

Harvey is a dream, a delight, a gift of an interview. After around an hour of this endlessly revealing, completely surprising, incredibly funny, virtual discourse, I ask him if he finds reviews useful? Harvey nods. “Yeah, sometimes they are helpful. Of course, its lovely to get nice reviews – but you just have to learn what they are about. For the writer, though, you know when you haven’t got it quite right.”

He continues: “You know when the play is fifteen minutes too long, and you can either sort it out or you’ve not quite worked out how to do it. What critics will pick up on are the places you think are a bit sh** as well, but you haven’t had the time or the brain to fix them.” 

So what is the secret of a good play? “Not too long. Have a f****** interval,” he says, smiling. “Make ’em cry, make ’em laugh, make ’em wait is my mantra.” 

And, finally, what does he make of fellow Liverpudlian Nadine Dorries, the newly appointed culture secretary? “Interesting,” he says diplomatically. “I’d really love to know what the last five plays she has seen are.”

It was so lovely to hang out with you on Zoom. Had a hoot. And it’s so often not like that, he emails later. I thank him wholeheartedly for his wicked play, and for his honesty.

Our Lady of Blundellsands is at the Everyman, Liverpool until 9 October 2021.

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Cameron Mackintosh’s comments on casting of trans actors as a ‘gimmick’ are unacceptable and dangerous


He produced Cats, a musical featuring an animatronic singing pig, and even put a real helicopter on stage, and the one thing he can’t wrap his head around is transgender people playing classic roles? 

Back once again, then, to Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who is receiving widespread backlash for calling it “gimmick casting” to cast a trans person in an existing role, in a recent interview with Telegraph.

“You can’t implant something that is not inherently there in the story or character, that’s what I think,” he said. 

But Mackintosh wasn’t finished. “Just to do that, that becomes gimmick casting. It’s trying to force something that isn’t natural.”

Sir Cameron Mackintosh

Mackintosh, who owns eight West End theatres, rejecting the possibility of a trans performer in one of his shows reinforces the dangerous idea that there is a right way to be female. 

Simply put, his comments are cruel and inaccurate and contradict the message of empathy and understanding found in the stories of nearly all his stage musicals, including Mary Poppins

His views are damaging to real people – people who are already disproportionately marginalised – and are downright irresponsible.

Mackintosh was very much an untouchable theatre God in the 80s and 90s, at the height of his power. These days, though, the 75 year old producer is increasingly out of touch and unpleasant. 

Still, extraordinary wealth and privilege is the story of Cameron’s life. That’s why he has so much spare time to participate in thoughtless interviews. 

Indeed, this is the latest in a long line of PR disasters for the billionaire producer. Mackintosh ruthlessly made over 850 backstage and front of house staff redundant (despite furlough), allegedly mistreats his staff and said theatres that received financial aid during the coronavirus pandemic were ones that “were going to fail”

Hilariously, he recently defended a decision to reduce The Phantom of the Opera’s orchestra by half, arguing actors and musicians should not expect to “keep doing the same thing year after year.”

Anyway, earlier this year, a report commissioned by the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama which looked into trans casting found that commercial or mainstream theatres “very rarely commission trans-led work and that trans roles are limited” and the majority of trans-led productions were currently on at fringe venues or on tours. 

We all need to do a hell of a lot more to support transgender, non-binary people, or gender non-conforming actors in commercial and west end theatre and not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm. 

Needless to say, transgender people in England and Wales are twice as likely to be victims of crime as cisgender people, and 2021 is set to be the deadliest yet in the US for these communities.

Mackintosh concluded his interview by saying: “As far as creating the new genre of musicals, it isn’t going to be my generation that’s doing it, because I know what I know from my generation.”

Oh right. I want that in blood, obviously. But thanks, Cameron. It’s appreciated.

Les Miserables

Newsflash: 🏳️‍⚧️ Trans women are women. 🏳️‍⚧️

On 30th August, Cameron Mackintosh tweeted an apology and clarification related to his comments about transgender performers.

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Anything Goes gave me one of the best nights in a theatre — ever. 

An actual show at the theatre. Wow indeed.

Financially, theatre is unviable. Yet at the Barbican in London right now, it’s never looked so enticing, beautiful and well produced.

Helmed by three-time Tony-winning director Kathleen Marshall, Anything Goes is the real deal.

Cheeriness is contagious, folks.

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

It has been a long time coming, but Cole Porter’s Anything Goes is the biggest new musical to open since the lifting of social distancing curbs on July 19.

Felicity Kendal is genuinely hilarious and brilliantly camp in her non-singing role. Gary Wilmot is thoroughly entertaining – that man is kind of amazing – throughout and theatre legend Robert Lindsay is cleverly funny as Moonface Martin – America’s 13th Most Wanted Man.

He is perfectly matched by chipper and demure Broadway star Sutton Foster making her UK debut as Reno Sweeney, who gets to sing some of Porter’s greatest songs including I Get a Kick Out of You and Blow, Gabriel, Blow

Reprising the role that won her a Tony Award a decade ago, from beginning to end Foster blazes through this feel-good show. She is full of jagged gestures. 

The story is nautical farce, but this is inconsequential. Even if you have never seen the musical, you know the songs.

However, if your main anchor is being offended by everything, then you must stay at home. The source material can, obviously, feel jarringly out of date.

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Basically, the gangsters are sex-crazed, women are leggy and there is a repressed aristocrat that sings about having ‘a bit of gypsy’ in him. 

In fact, the lines leading into song The Gypsy in Me have been tweaked, thankfully. 

Unworthy critics will fail to ruin the magic of a magnificent production like this. We all know that these glitzy shows are from another era.

The dancing here is exceptional. When did you last experience the truly awe-inspiring sight of two mid-show standing ovations? 

Having said all that, this is a triumphant, world-class, rousing piece of musical theatre. 

This magnificently starry production proves most captivating, while ultimately raising a toast to the redemptive power of theatre. It is pure escapism.

Basically, Anything Goes gave me one of the best nights in a theatre — ever. 

Anything Goes runs at the Barbican until 31 October 2021 

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Manchester International Festival 2021 / Bloody Elle – A Gig Musical

On reading the words ‘Manchester International Festival’, you know you’re in for quite the experience. I mean, it’s not everyday you get the opportunity to attend a biennial international arts festival, during a pandemic, with a specific focus on original new work.

There is more free, outdoor public art than ever before and the city is alive with accessible, vibrant and exciting art. So with some degree of excitement, I made my way to Manchester last week, and here are some things I experienced.

First up, an impressive 42m (138ft) sculpture replica of Big Ben has crash landed in Piccadily Gardens. ‘Big Ben Lying Down With Books’ – the UK’s biggest participatory art spectacle in years – has been created by Argentine artist Marta Minujin and is covered in 12,000 politically-themed books. I fully immersed myself in this impressive and quirky statement on Brexit, disillusionment and democracy. Brilliant – and – free.

Marta Minujin’s sculpture is called Big Ben Lying Down With Political Books

The Arndale shopping centre, meanwhile, has been turned into a makeshift art gallery for Cephas Williams’ Portraits of Black Britain, which features giant banners showing high-achieving black Britons. Powerful stuff.

Playing to a socially distanced, masked audience may not be every singer’s dream but Arlo Parks gig at the cavernous Manchester Central was a performance of stunning tenderness.

Arlo Parks at Manchester Central

For the last six songs, Royal Northern College of Music string players joined Parks on stage to enrich the songs and add layers of heartfelt nuance. Parks – a 20-year old London singer-songwriter-poet bagged the Brit award this year for best new artist. She expresses herself with a rare lightness of touch on her remarkable debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams. Pure joy.

Elsewhere, Cloud Studies at the seriously trendy Whitworth Art Gallery just out of town features clouds being considered by Forensic Architecture as toxic. This gripping exhibition explores the various ways in which the air – far from being neutral or free – is witness to a lopsided world.

Another highlight of the exhibition is the first phase of an investigation on environmental racism in an area known as ‘Cancer Alley’. In a US region heavily populated with petrochemical facilities, majority-Black communities, the descendants were historically enslaved on those very lands, today contain the most toxic air in the country.

Forensic Architecture’s Cloud Studies at the Whitworth Art Gallery.

MIF has also commissioned choreographer Akram Khan to produce a stylish and moving 17 minute short film. Breathless Puppets is a 17-minute animation co-created by Khan and animator, writer and director Naaman Azhari.

This brilliant animation utilises retroscope technology; basically whereby a live action is sketched over to give a constantly moving, line-drawn aesthetic. Breathless Puppets tells the story of a young man called Nicholas who wants to be a dancer, despite his family urging him to go into medicine. 

Manchester’s beautifully restored Central Library played host to ‘I Love You Too,” This project featured Eleven Manchester-based writers that collaborated with participants, putting their words to page and composing love letters that reflected and reinterpreted the individuals. Furthermore, together with the publication, the stunning domed Reading Room played host an exhibition of Wa Lehulere’s new sculpture, created especially for the space.

Conceived with the intention of creating a global love library, “I Love You Too” marked the beginning of a new series – one that’s set to become an international encyclopaedia of devotion.

Bloody Elle – A Gig Musical

I was delighted to snag a ticket to the raggedly charming “Bloody Elle” at the Royal Exchange. It has reopened with Lauryn Redding’s emotional, wild and honest ‘gig musical’. This gauche kitchen-sink theatre is smart in its portrayal of a queer love story. Right on.

Bryony Shanahan’s supple solo production makes the most of the in-the round setting of the main space – it feels like a epic late-night show at Roundabout at Summerhall during Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The songs are spry and melodic with a forthrightness that is refreshing.

Bloody Elle is a ‘semi autobiographical’ show that is simultaneously confessional, sprawling and occasionally indulgent.

It moves in the course of the evening from noise to quietness, from non-stop crassness to moments of musical tenderness and expressive gesture. Admittedly, it is all a bit drawn out, and could do with losing 30 minutes, but it is often a perky evening and during these Difficult Times, well worth the effort.

A very pleasant surprise. 

Manchester International Festival runs until Sunday 18 July

Bloody Elle – A Gig Musical runs until 17 July

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British Theatre Is Facing A Covid Tragedy

July 2021. UK Theatres are in limbo. By now, of course, you know the latest facts, because you live in them. 

In no particular order, over 62% of British adults are now fully vaccinated. And 84% have had one dose.

A new production of Jersey Boys is set to begin at the Trafalgar theatre next month

But the Indian or Delta variant (which is ultra-infectious, so infectious that one person may infect up to six others) has resulted in the UK having the highest infection rate in Europe. New research suggests ‘scarily fleeting’ contact could infect, and that places with high jab rates are susceptible.

Fortunately, we now have one of the lowest death rates because of the astounding vaccine programme. Indeed, now stadiums, shopping centres and theatres have joined the “grab a jab” campaign in England in a bid to boost vaccine uptake.

However, even by late August, only 39 per cent of under-40s are set to have been fully vaccinated, opening a generational divide and zero chance of foreign summer travel should vaccine passports become a thing. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock may have resigned but his successor Sajid Javid has his hands full with an NHS struggling to cope with a vast backlog of operations, treatment and surging cases.

Either way, according to the latest official figures, more arts, entertainment and recreation businesses were still suffering last month than in any other industry.

Felicity Kendall & Sutton Foster in Anything Goes rehearsals

But the show must go on, right? Major West End shows including Anything Goes and The Lion King have started rehearsals, with more set to follow; contracts have been signed, audiences have rebooked tickets (as many as four times) and the consequences of another delay beyond July 19 are unthinkable.

The pandemic has exposed the Tory government’s insulting attitude to theatre: a mixture of apathy and hostility. Despite generating billions pre-pandemic, London theatre owners and impresarios for example, claim regularly they are now “on the brink of ruin”.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Howard Panter – owner of the second-largest operator, Trafalgar Entertainment, said the situation in the West End was “intolerable”.

In the meantime, tempers (and sanity) are fraying; Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh and Sonia Friedman launched legal action to force government to publish Events Research Programme pilot results.

A masked usher awaits The Mousetrap audiences

A stretch of the imagination that might have dumbfounded me pre-pandemic, but Lloyd Webber certainly seemed to be speaking from the heart when he went on LBC recently: “Public Health England officials don’t have a clue about theatre and how they’re operated. We’ve somehow been made a sacrificial lamb.”

Alas, the long awaited report – which was released promptly after a Court order – said there were “no substantial outbreaks” identified by public health teams and their surveillance systems around any of the events.

Unfortunately, it also demonstrated that the testing regime of the Events Research Programme was pointless and incompetent, meaning it clear the government is repeating their own mistakes at a colossal cost to everyone else.

But weary theatres still need insurance to safeguard against the possibility of Covid-based cancellation, however the pandemic means that the private market will not provide it. This would help thousands of freelancers return to the industry and reassure producers, venues and artists alike.


The major issue for theatres from the West End to Liverpool Everyman is that rehearsals, preparation and planning take months not weeks and often costs thousands and thousands of pounds, and the current question marks hanging around hospitality and entertainment venues are making such work impossible or loss-making. Regional theatres dependent on income from tours will lose the very shows that might help them survive.

Temperature checks outside a west end theatre

Of course, Slytherin Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden would refer to the generous £1.5bn culture recovery fund, even if the rescue funds left the actual freelance workforce – musicians, photographers, actors, artists, dancers, choreographers, designers out in the cold. In fact hundreds of cultural organisations have still not received promised funds leaving some worse off than when they applied.  

The delaying of Step Four of the road map is a final straw for many: confidence in reopening has been shattered, despite the vast sums invested in venues to restrict Covid transmission. The creative sector must now be allowed to cautiously trade their way – at full capacity – out of difficulties and contribute to our national recovery.

It is completely stupefying that we have spent 66 weeks being told to “take responsibility” and “use common sense” by a government religiously incapable of either.

Anyway, July 19 is yet another ‘not before date’ and this week came rumblings of future winter lockdowns amid warnings from scientists. So, don’t rule out another delay to the ‘cautious but irreversible’ easing of lockdown restrictions. In fact, don’t rule out restrictions being completely ditched before a murderous third wave, subsequent U-turn and more mutant strains.

Frankly I’m not sure we will ever reconcile the impact that Covid, Brexit and the ‘streaming economy’ are having on the sector in my lifetime.

Continuing to allow galleries, art centres, opera, communities, theatres and independent cinemas to wither away is an act of profound cultural vandalism.

A socially distanced audience at the London Palladium

Hell, if a whole generation of talent goes to the wall, no one wins, the whole country will be poorer for it.

Something’s got to change. Fast.

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Manchester International Festival 2021 programme announced

Manchester International Festival (MIF), returns from 1-18 July with a vibrant programme of original new work from across the spectrum of visual and performing arts and music by artists from over 20 countries.

The reasonably amazing lineup includes Angélique Kidjo, Akram Khan, Arlo Parks, Aaron and Bryce Dessner, Boris Charmatz, Cerys Matthews, Christine Sun Kim, Cillian Murphy, Deborah Warner, Forensic Architecture, Ibrahim Mahama, Kemang Wa Lehulere, Laure Prouvost, Marta Minujín, Lemn Sissay and Patti Smith

  • Events will take place safely in indoor and outdoor locations across Greater Manchester, including the first ever work on the construction site of The Factory, the landmark cultural space that will be MIF’s future home
  • A rich online offer will provide a window into the Festival wherever audiences are, including livestreams and work created especially for the digital realm
  • With almost all the work created in the past year, MIF21 provides a unique snapshot of these unprecedented times. Artists have reflected on ideas such as love and human connections, the way we play, division and togetherness, equality and social change, and the relationship between the urban and the rural
  • For the first time, the curation of the Festival’s talks and discussions programme has been handed over to local people, building on MIF’s work involving the community as artistic collaborators and participants in work shaped by them
  • Festival Square returns in new location Cathedral Gardens with a packed programme of food, drink and free live music, DJs and more
  • As one of the first major public events in the city, MIF21 will play a key role in the safe reopening of the city’s economy and provide employment for hundreds of freelancers and artists
  • Much of the programme will be free to attend, with more work than ever in public spaces around the city

People sitting outside in the sunshine at tables in MIF's pop-up Festival Square in Manchester

Headshot of John McGrath

John McGrath, the Artistic Director and Chief Executive of MIF.

Manchester International Festival Artistic Director & Chief Executive, John McGrath says: “MIF has always been a Festival like no other – with almost all the work being created especially for us in the months and years leading up to each Festival edition.  But who would have guessed two years ago what a changed world the artists making work for our 2021 Festival would be working in?”

“I am thrilled to be revealing the projects that we will be presenting from 1-18 July this year – a truly international programme of work made in the heat of the past year and a vibrant response to our times. Created with safety and wellbeing at the heart of everything, it is flexible to ever-changing circumstances, and boldly explores both real and digital space.

“We hope MIF21 will provide a time and place to reflect on our world now, to celebrate the differing ways we can be together, and to emphasise, despite all that has happened, the importance of our creative connections – locally and globally.”

Hop along to the MIF official website from from Thurs 20 May 2021 if you’re interested

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From staplers to potatoes – it’s monster producer Scott Rudin

To Kill a Mockingbird focuses on that gut instinct of right and wrong, it is a timeless classic.

By way of a recap, Broadway producer Scott Rudin is accused of assaulting employees in a devastating new Hollywood Reporter exposé.

One of the most harrowing accounts involved Rudin, 62, smashing an Apple computer monitor on an assistant’s hand. Yup.

Scott Rudin

Scott Rudin

Meanwhile, to the audible shock of those who work in theatre, Rudin is also accused of throwing a glass bowl at someone from his HR department. It missed and shattered against the wall. Thank goodness.

For context, Rudin’s theatre projects extend into Broadway reopening, with a revival of The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman.

Along with co-producers Sonia Friedman and Barry Diller, Rudin is due to bring To Kill a Mockingbird to the Gielgud Theatre in the West End in March 2022.

Admittedly, Rudin joins the long list of high profile industry figures who believe it is their right to abuse their power.

Some revelations to the story, though, have really bothered me.

Worse was to come: one of those who has spoken out is the brother of a former assistant to Rudin who tragically committed suicide. 

Just awful.

“Every day was exhausting and horrific,” a former assistant, who worked for Rudin from 2018–2019, recalled.

“Not even the way he abused me, but watching the way he abused the people around me who started to become my very close friends. You’re spending 14 hours a day with the same people, enduring the same abuse. It became this collective bond with these people.”

Bullying is a repeated pattern of abuse of power designed to dominate those perceived as inferior, as weaker. Side affects include depression, anxiety, panic attacks – it’s a major risk factor for mental health.

Also, a former assistant claims that Rudin “relished in the cruelty” and “hundreds and hundreds of people have suffered” from his behaviour.

Other details? He fired someone for having diabetes, threw potatoes at someone’s head and reportedly assaulted staff, sending colleagues to the hospital twice.

Needless to say, leading figures are betraying their status by not making a stronger stand against these shocking revelations.

Ultimately, this is not restricted or confined to Scott. This happens everywhere.

I have been through this kind of experience myself; as a child, I was assaulted, and it is one of the things that motivated me to speak out when things are not right. Unfortunately, my own career has never been short of abusers, monsters and egomaniacs.

As for the wider implications of this scandal for Broadway and beyond, it would be easy to get carried away. On the other hand, you certainly wouldn’t rule him out making some sort of return in due course.

In 2014, Page Six ran an article about Rudin: “The Man Known as Hollywood’s Biggest A-hole,”that alleged that Rudin had pushed assistants out of moving cars and fired assistants for bringing him the wrong muffin, mispronouncing names, and, at least in one instance, having to attend a funeral.

Unfortunately, Rudin is still today boosted by enablers who looked the other way or ignored these rumours, allowing accusations to remain an “open secret” for years.

In 2018, he was making history with Aaron Sorkin’s To Kill A Mocking Bird, which shattered an 118 year record by earning more than $1.5 million in one week.

For those wondering when things will die down, I spoke to a made-up theatre scientist who calculated that moment will come at the precise second that anti-Rudin coverage stops grossing more than Rudin productions in 2022.

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

Like Kevin Spacey before him, it will be hard to believe the frightful bollocks about those “not knowing” spouted by rich and powerful colleagues. 

The industry silence about this alleged physical abuse and personality faults of Rudin are unforgivable, yet easily explained. They depend on him for their income. 

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Good Friday? Culture Recovery Fund – Round 2

God, I miss theatre.

Today, more than 2,700 arts organisations have been supported in the latest tranche of Culture Recovery Fund money, totalling £400 million.

Indeed, in his Budget in March, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a further £300m for the fund, which is yet to be allocated.

The government said 70% of today’s funding was being distributed outside London.  The big plus point here was that more than 1,200 organisations received support from the emergency arts funding scheme for the first time.

The funding includes £81m in loans including £4.25m to Saddler’s Wells and £7.3m to The Lowry in Salford.

I hope you have been paying attention. Because the thing about this government is that it moved with the same speed and grace rescuing the cultural sector in 2020 as that container ship which got wedged in the Suez Canal.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said thousands of organisations had had help to “survive the biggest crisis they’ve ever faced.”

He added: “Now we’re staying by their side as they prepare to welcome the public back – helping our cultural gems plan for reopening and thrive in better times ahead.”

Of course, it is still sinister that the government is forcing arts venues across the country to publicly sing its praises once again.

Slytherin Oliver Dowden at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Slytherin Oliver Dowden at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

I’m also obsessed with the fact that Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) which runs more than 30 UK venues, will receive almost £1m. 

Bizarrely, a number of organisations owned by extremely wealthy individuals will receive taxpayer handouts.

And last month five cases of fraud were discovered among Culture Recovery Fund applications that led to a number of award offers being withdrawn, a report by the National Audit Office claimed; some applicants were awarded funding “significantly in excess” of their income the previous year.

Anyway, let us not forget that theatres played an important role in communities everywhere pre-2020. More than 34 million people attend theatres in the UK each year, generating £1.28 billion in ticket revenue.

And lo. Theatres are allowed to reopen on May 17  for socially distanced performances – this will be a hugely welcome first step.

All eyes are on June 21 as set out in the UK Government’s roadmap, later this summer for all restrictions being dropped.  Let’s see.

But there is still the small issue of ongoing mutations, vaccine passports and testing. This will be key to reopening all of society.

However…

The idea of forcing people to show vaccine passports to enter theatres and concerts is likely to be counterproductive and is literally not a good idea.

Dowden said on Andrew Marr recently that more pilots would begin from the middle of April to look at things like ventilation, one-way systems and tests on how the virus spreads at indoor and outdoors.

PILOTS?!

At best, then, the success of the vaccine rollout and the better weather in the summer months will be vital factors.

The big institutions may today be safe, but the talented freelance workforce who set the stage alight are largely self-employed and have been hung out to dry.

Thanks, Oliver. Thanks for everything.

Full list of performing arts organisations given CRF money in round two

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Park Theatre’s Jez Bond: “Many freelancers have tragically left our industry and there is a lot of hard work ahead.”

Park theatre artistic director Jez Bond is busy looking at revisions of his business plan. “We have some formulating to do with our smaller space, Park90, that might enable us to bring in work that we may have previously turned down,” he says. “Historically there have been a lot of shows that we missed out on because they couldn’t have necessarily afforded to rent the space,” he continues. “So, we are trying to find out if there are new models that can crack that issue.”

Jez Bond

Park Theatre not only presents off west end theatre in the heart of London’s Finsbury Park, but is a creative community hub and has been a significant part of the redevelopment of the area. As a small charity with no regular government or Arts Council funding, the pandemic led to a devastating loss of income.

Fortunately, Park Theatre was awarded £250,000 as part of the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) to help face the challenges.

I have interviewed Bond before in 2017– he is not shy. He’s funny, opinionated and happy to talk about anything.

We are talking on the telephone in the week that Chancellor Rishi Sunak outlined his latest Budget. Measures include a £300 million addition to the Culture Recovery Fund and £150 million fund to help communities take ownership of theatres, pubs and sports clubs at risk of closure.

“We’re grateful for the actions of the Chancellor but let’s not make the mistake of assuming that it’s all rosy: many freelancers have tragically left our industry and there is a lot of hard work ahead,” says Bond.

What, I ask, are his thoughts on the explosion of digital productions? He pauses. ‘I’ve been very clear and up front that I have no passion for digital,” Bond says. “It is a means to end – but it’s not something that I have a particular passion for. Broadening the reach is a good thing but let’s not pretend that there is a new exciting way – let’s not pretend that that is theatre, we want to get back to live theatre.”

What has kept him going throughout the pandemic? “We thought we’d be dead in the water at some point,” he says.

“My drive was to say that we have 40-50 staff and we cannot let these people go during the pandemic. At a time when there was and is no prospect of getting another job. It is our duty to ensure that we protect those livelihoods. When we engaged with our donors and wider community it was evident how much Park Theatre means to everybody. It meant far too much to just let it all go. Sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in.”

Park Theatre

Park Theatre

How would he describe his approach through the scenario planning, shifting sands and executive decisions? “I have erred on the side of rational caution, sensibility and logic: Reading the data and following what’s going on in other countries rather than doing what people think or want you want to say. Even recently, with the Prime Minister’s roadmap: I don’t see June being a realistic date for performances to take place at full capacity.”

Every year, it seems, the debate rages on casting well-known names from TV or film to generate ticket sales. With ticket prices looking set to stay high, and severely reduced public subsidy, there is surely an increased commercial imperative to cast stars.

Bond’s ability to knock out commercial hits is extraordinary – David Haig’s Pressure, The Boys in The Band starring Mark Gatiss, for example – he’s frank about how he feels about them. “It’s a vital part of what we do – being able to take a play and give it an extended commercial life aids us both financially and reputationally. I’m very proud of the work we’ve presented.”

According to Bond commercially successful shows rely on star power. “There has to be an understanding of why those decisions are made,” he says. “Theatres do not choose celebrities because they are mates with them. They do so because they sell tickets. If we do a new play by an unknown writer and an unknown cast, it could fly and it could get great reviews. However, if you cast Damian Lewis or Miriam Margolyes you ensure that you have a selling point and you know that you can take that significant financial risk.”

“If we were subsidised to take risk, then it wouldn’t matter. Let’s put it very clearly: it is about survival.”