Thu 21 November 2019
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Why do some theatre critics seem to be enjoying the arts cuts?
Despite the fact that thousands of people will be losing their jobs, some commentators seem to be experiencing a severe case of funding schadenfreude. Whose side are they on? Asks Dan Rebellato

I went to school in London, on the fringes of the City's golden mile, where during the mid-80s two new sights appeared on the streets: first were the confident, loud, sharply dressed city traders; second, striking miners, in subways and on corners, with their yellow collecting buckets and "Coal Not Dole" badges. I saw these worlds collide once when a city banker, egged on by his jeering mates, tore a £50 note into tiny pieces and put it in the miner's collecting tin.

I've thought about that moment a lot this last week. As the cuts to the arts have been rolled out, there's been a stark disparity between the dignity of the arts organisations and the gleeful, taunting jubilation of their enemies. The cuts to the arts will certainly mean job losses, probably inthe thousands. When did you last see people lining up to crow triumphantly over something like that?

Quentin Letts, in the Daily Mail, wrote an article predicting where the cuts would fall and how the arts world would respond. He was wrong on both fronts. He thought the Royal Shakespeare Company, Opera North and English National Ballet would bear the brunt; they didn't. He also suggested that the air would be rent by the "keening and caterwauling" of "corduroyed luvvies"; it wasn't. The Telegraph's Charles Spencer rejoiced at the 100% cut to Trestle Theatre and expressed regret that the London International Mime Festival hadn't gone too. Christopher Hart interrupted his Sunday Times review of Kneehigh's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg to allege that "the arts world is squealing like a stuck pig about cuts" and suggested that this show was an argument for cutting funding further. (It was rapidly pointed out, of course, that the show was a commercial venture not supported by state funding.)

These men are all theatre critics. And critics must be able to offer their opinion of the work before them without worrying about the consequences. If a critic always praised for fear of losing someone their job, we'd soon lose faith in any of their judgments.

But there's a difference between consigning a show to the grave and dancing on it, and an even bigger difference between reviewing a company's work and its financial position. Most of us would accept that a vet who puts down an ailing family pet performs a useful service and a sad duty; we would think differently of them if we found they took enormous pleasure in killing dogs and had an eye on one or two others they'd be delighted to do away with.

This contempt for the arts is mirrored in the "Have your say" comment threads that accompany online coverage of the cuts. "One word – luvvies" scoffs one observer on the BBC website. Another writes: "About time they stopped wasting money on this rubbsh!! [sic]". A third, responding to the Guardian's coverage, says, "I rather set fire [sic] to the money than give a penny to the arts." I suspect there'll be more examples beneath this article before long.

For the full article

The Guardian

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