theatre, regional


theatre, regional
   Regional theatre has had a difficult time in recent years. It has had to compete with shifts in the pattern of people’s leisure towards home entertainment such as television, videos or music. When people go out, it is more often to cinema than to theatre. There have also been cutbacks in funding. Consequently, many theatres have closed down and those which have survived are struggling. Loss of theatres is important because traditionally actors have come up through the repertory route, travelling around Britain’s regional theatres to learn and practise their craft, and because students in particular, who are notoriously difficult to attract into theatres, need to be exposed to a culture of theatre if it is to be sustained in future years. Historically, much of the original television drama came from the provinces, not least from the many civic theatres (the Belgrade in Coventry, the Leicester Haymarket, the Nottingham Playhouse and so on) which, in the 1960s, nurtured new playwrights.
   The picture is not uniformly gloomy, however. For example, in Liverpool both The Royal Court (which was mainly given over to pop concerts) and the Playhouse have closed down, but other theatres continue to thrive, such as the Everyman, the Unity and the Neptune. Also, several regional repertory companies have secured strong local followings for themselves and their theatres. These include the Royal Exchange, Manchester and the Nottingham Playhouse.
   Norwich has been fortunate to have a brand new repertory theatre, the Playhouse. Supported by Arthur Miller and Timothy West, it has, like the civic theatres of the 1960s, a deliberate policy of initiating new plays. Malcolm Bradbury’s first play for the theatre for thirty years, Inside Trading, opened there.
   A further gratifying development for regional theatre has been the advent of the National Lottery. In 1996, its grants enabled an entirely rebuilt Cambridge Arts Theatre to open, at a total cost of £8.5m. The theatre had been closed for three years. Similarly the Oxford Playhouse, closed for four years, reopened in 1995, radically modernized after a £4m refurbishment. The absence of functional theatres in such influential towns was particularly regrettable. Both theatres, like many others, are however known as ‘receiving houses’, which is to say they do not sustain their own repertory company but largely buy in existing productions.
   See also: fringe theatre; West End
   Further reading
    Rowell, G. and Jackson, A. (1984) The Repertory Movement: A History of Regional Theatre in Britain, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
   MIKE STORRY

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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