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Tory cuts mean theatre will lose its cutting edge

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Tricycle theatre’s artistic director Nicolas Kent tells Simon Basketter why the government has led him to resign
Issue 2265

Nicolas Kent is to stand down from the renowned Tricycle theatre as a result of Tory cuts to the arts.

Working as artistic director since 1984, he has brought great success to the Tricycle in Kilburn, north London.

The theatre is known for hard-hitting, socially engaged plays, and for working closely with local people.

Nicolas told Socialist Worker that public subsidy cuts and the Tory emphasis on “philanthropy”—the wealthy voluntarily funding art projects—made the theatre untenable.

“We’ve had a 27 percent cut in our funding,” he said. “We already raise £500,000 a year, but this would mean raising another £348,000. The government says this will come from rich philanthropists.”

The Tricycle has suffered an 11 percent drop in Arts Council investment over three years, but also from local government cuts. It has lost £56,000 in funding from London councils.


“I think the Tories would have cut the arts even without the economic crisis because they believe in philanthropy, rather than public funding, which is completely wrong-headed,” Nicolas said.

“I think killing the grassroots is absolutely short-sighted.

“The exchequer makes a fortune out of theatre, but it will lose all that while increasing unemployment and putting people on benefits.

“The possibilities are diminishing daily because the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer in the arts, and this is wrong.

“The battles we fought in the 1980s are being fought again. We had a brief respite, initially, under Labour.”

But the search for funds is difficult and time-consuming. “Perhaps now it is time for someone else to take it up,” he said.

“The national institutions are more likely to attract funding than those based in regions. The Tricycle is in a less well-heeled and lesser-known area. This means it has less vocal support.

“People from the local area are a big part of our audience. But the ‘Big Society’ only goes so far it seems.

“It’s vital that theatre is locally rooted. The first play I did at the Tricycle was Playboy of the West Indies—it’s what got me the job here.

“It is a principle of the Tricycle to represent the area we work in. That is why, from the start, we attempted to reflect the African-Caribbean and Irish make-up of Kilburn.”

The theatre has become known for its verbatim political plays, including journalist Richard Norton-Taylor’s dramatising of the Hutton Inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly, and the Macpherson Inquiry into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence.

“We were prominent in what is the second wind of verbatim theatre.

“We perhaps did the purest form of it by not changing a word or the order of the text. There is clearly much life in the genre.

“The Colour of Justice, based on the murder of Stephen Lawrence, was part of linking to the local area.


“This also applies to our work on Guantanamo Bay. The Tipton Three who were held there have their solicitor’s office 50 yards from the theatre. Two other Guantanamo detainees live in the area.”

Nicolas is clearly angry about what the cuts will mean for the socially important work of the Tricycle.

“The cuts in theatre will mean fewer new plays and fewer new actors,” he said. “It will mean a growth in amateur productions, but purely because people aren’t getting paid.

“The Edinburgh Fringe has more free events than ever before, but that is because people are putting on more unpaid shows. New writing will simply be lost if it is not encouraged.

“I have always opposed the idea of ‘centres of excellence’. The 44,000 young people we work with every year will by disenfranchised by national centres—work has to be rooted.”

But he added, “I am optimistic in the long term. Theatre always finds a way through.”


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