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All Hail Regional Theatre

My new year’s resolution was to visit theatres outside of London more.
It is true that there has never been a better time to check out theatre outside the London bubble.
In fact, my show of the year – *so far* – is Life of Pi at Crucible in Sheffield; it was as above average as theatre goes. This  production was extraordinary and the creative team so completely at the top of their game. A 2020 London transfer is guaranteed.

 Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Recently on the subject of Life of Pi, Baz Bamigboye praised theatre beyond the M25: “Interesting that the best work these days is not being done in our national houses, but in regional theatres and off West End sites.”
It is impossible to disagree with Baz, he’s 100% right, of course. But the era of subsidy as we knew it has run its course – contrary to years of austerity cuts it appears that regional theatre is in rude health. The best theatre is happening right now and outside of London – despite a chilly funding landscape.

In this regard, ending austerity needs to happen and whatever the form Brexit eventually takes, we can only hope that there will be more public spending and provision for culture.

I won’t hold my breath, though.

Unfortunately, Nicky Morgan has become the Culture Secretary following a cabinet reshuffle by new UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson; Morgan has previously expressed support for the EBacc and once claimed that studying the arts is not “useful” for many careers. Oh dear.

Perhaps understandably then, in recent times some regional theatres booked tribute acts and programmed cripplingly predictable safe work. You hope for better, obviously, from publicly funded organisations. It’s tough out there, though.

Oklahoma!

Oklahoma!

Anyway, over the summer I have managed to catch Birmingham Hippodrome and Curve Leicester’s bold production of The Color Purple, witness the first actor-musician version of Kiss Me Kate at Watermill Theatre, Newbury, admire a fresh minted West Side Story in Manchester, and savour Chichester Festival Theatre’s mighty summer revival of Oklahoma!

These organisations are crucial to the ecology of UK theatre and they rarely fail to deliver the goods. Most impressively, they avoid a race to the commercial-driven bottom.

Kiss Me Kate

Kiss Me Kate

In his column for the Stage this week, Daniel Evans said: “London is welcoming a surge of work from the UK’s subsidised regional houses. Look at the current wave: Bristol Old Vic, Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum and Northampton’s Royal and Derngate collaborated with Fuel to bring their adaptation of Touching the Void to the Duke of York’s and Sheffield Theatres’ Everybody’s Talking About Jamie continues to uplift audiences at the Apollo.”

He’s right, too – regional theatres that are succeeding best create “I-was-there” moments for an audience. They are also engaging with their communities.

I’m thinking of Mark Gattiss in The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse, The Grinning Man at Bristol Old Vic, Flowers For Mrs Harris, anything with Maxine Peake at Royal Exchange in Manchester, Kneehigh‘s ‘Ubu Karaoke’ at the Asylum in Cornwall, Sweeney Todd at Liverpool Everyman, Richard Hawley and Chris Bush’s musical Standing at the Sky’s Edge, and so on.

So, I encourage you to step out of your immediate theatre-going zone, support it and explore the riches of British theatre, whether it is the Midlands, Scotland or Wales.

You won’t regret it.