Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the operation of the theatre market in (1) London, and (2) elsewhere in the United Kingdom; and what steps they are taking to ensure that theatre is accessible to as wide an audience as possible.
My Lords, several of the Liberal Democrats think it is high time we had a debate on the state of British theatre, particularly the London theatre, which attracts millions of tourists from all over the world. London is now generally accepted as being the theatrical mecca of the English-speaking world.
I will start with the good news. London theatre is booming. In fact, some say it has never been in a healthier state. Theatres are not going dark any more, smaller theatre venues are opening all over the city and many of the popular shows, some of which have been running for more than 30 years, are still sold out every night, and certainly at weekends. More and more actors and performers are being presented with their opportunity to shine. If you still do not know who the murderer in “The Mousetrap” is, you have another year or so to find out. That is the good news.
Now I will turn to the bad news, which is what concerns many of us. Ticket prices have been rising sharply, considerably more than inflation, and are still rising. I am talking mainly about the prices for relatively good seats. It is getting more and more difficult for the average British theatregoer to afford an evening in the West End, and almost impossible if he or she hopes to bring the family.
In his speech at the Olivier Awards earlier this year, Kenny Wax, the chairman of SOLT—the Society of London Theatre—praised the London theatre’s successes, then added that the theatre should not be for only “those with means”. He said that, in his opinion, we need to,
“take a good, hard look at ticket pricing across the West End … We cannot get away from the fact that the average cost of a top-price ticket has risen steeply in the past few years”.
In an unconvincing attempt to justify these excessive prices, some theatre owners argue that it is only the top prices that have gone up. The cheaper and average-priced seats, they say, have risen only in line with inflation. In fact, the so-called high-priced seats now constitute half the seats in the theatre: the ones where you have a chance of seeing all the action and hearing all the lines—in fact, the ones most of us want to sit in. No doubt if you are prepared to sit in the back row of the stalls behind a pillar, you might find that this year will be no more expensive than last year.
As regular theatregoers among your Lordships will have noticed, the cost of theatre seats has risen dramatically. Since the musical “Hamilton” arrived in London from New York two years ago, the cost of a seat for a musical has made a huge jump. In 2015, no theatrical production, not even the most extravagant musical, would cost more than £100 for a good seat. Now the average price is about £150 and most cost more than that. The only justification for these prices is that there are still people prepared to pay them, mostly tourists who do not know any better. To be fair to the theatre owners, many provide discounted tickets for certain shows on certain days and you can usually get a cheaper seat if you arrive on the night and queue up. But, for a number of reasons, that may not suit all of us.
Once you start delving into the murky world of London theatre production you find yourself with a hundred different questions that are never satisfactorily answered. The way productions are costed is very complicated and some say it is in the interest of the theatre world to keep it complicated. But one thing is clear: those who benefit most from a successful play or musical are not so much the producers, who have taken all the initial risks, but the theatre owners and the agents who sell the tickets for them. In the present climate there is a glut of producers looking for a suitable venue in the West End to put on their show. This has put the theatres in a very strong, commanding position. The theatres have all the necessary licences and they collect all the money. Although the ticket prices are usually decided and agreed by both parties, the production company must pay its contracted rent whether or not the show is a success. The theatre owners then have the whip hand.
For the past 10 years or so, theatre owners have been employing a system called “dynamic pricing”. For those who do not know what that is, it is the same system commonly used by the hotel and travel trade. Costs vary depending on demand. If your hotel or flight is busy, costs go up; if quieter, prices drop. Apparently this works well in the hotel and travel business, but in the theatre business it is really just an excuse to put prices up. After all, theatre productions do not need any special system to drop their prices. Some musicals have been running in London for many years—“The Phantom of the Opera”, “Les Misérables”, “Wicked” and “The Book of Mormon”, for instance—and there is no sign of them lowering their prices, although they will have recouped their initial investment years ago.
Of the 45 or so main commercial theatres in London, nearly three-quarters are owned by four companies only: ATG, Delfont Mackintosh, the Really Useful Theatre Company and Nimax. Between them, they dominate the commercial theatre scene in what, in practice, has become a near-monopoly.
The Bridge Theatre, beside Tower Bridge, which first opened two years ago, is among a few independent theatres in London. It produces its own shows, as well as presenting them in its own venue, but unlike the National Theatre it gets no government subsidy. It is truly independent, run by Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr, and while aiming, of course, to be profitable, it puts on new and classical works while keeping its ticket prices as low as possible. It is important for all of us who love the theatre that its policy proves successful.
The other main reason that prices have gone so high in the commercial theatre lies in the process of ticketing and ticket selling. The companies that sell the tickets, mostly online and often franchised by the theatres, are able to take bigger and bigger commissions, and often add a booking fee on top of that. This is an area that needs much more transparency. How much of the money you pay for your ticket goes on production costs, how much of it goes to the theatre, how much on VAT, how much on the restoration fee to keep the theatre maintained and how much on commissions to the ticket sellers? Companies working in the secondary market buy up tickets for popular shows, or those sold out at the box office, and re-sell them on the internet at exorbitant prices to wealthy people desperate for a seat. Some of them are no more than computer-literate touts, and efforts are presently being made by government agencies and some of the theatres themselves—Delfont Mackintosh in particular—to frustrate these practices.
Some of your Lordships may feel that the whole issue of rising prices for West End theatre tickets is no business of the Government, but merely the healthy working of supply and demand—the free market. However, if you care about the international reputation of the London theatre, and feel that families of modest means should be encouraged—as well as able—to afford the popular shows in the West End, or you are concerned that too much of your precious ticket money is ending up in the hands of the wrong people, you will agree that it is the Government’s job to step in and impose regulations on the excesses of the theatre world. The first step is to demand more transparency, so that we can see what is actually going on. I have been trying to achieve this for two years, but am still working mostly in the dark.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, on securing this debate. I have no doubt that some commentators on the House of Lords will regard this subject as rather ephemeral and elitist, but I see it as critical to the kind of country we want to be once we have managed to put Brexit behind us.
I have long been concerned about how to support the arts in this country. In my maiden speech in February 2011, in a debate on the arts introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, who is one of the most formidable advocates for the arts in your Lordships’ House from whom we shall hear in a moment, I said that we were,
“very privileged in this country to have access to a world-class arts scene: theatre, opera, dance, music, museums, galleries and much more”.—
I referred to these as,
“a national treasure to be protected and nourished”,
and urged that we find new sources of funding for the arts, as reliance on the public purse was no longer sustainable. I also argued that increased funding was not the whole answer. We had to do more. In particular, I said that,
“the most important thing that we can do to support the arts … is to encourage young people to develop a love for the arts and, where appropriate, to help them develop any latent artistic talents they may have”.—[Official Report, 3/2/11; col.1527.]
I made this statement over eight years ago, but I still believe it to be true.
I also still believe that the best way of helping young people to develop these talents is to expose them to those who have already developed these skills to the very highest levels. Fortunately, such world-class stars live and work in our country. The trouble is that, once they become world-class stars, the economics of show business means that only a very limited proportion of our population can afford to see them, as the noble Earl pointed out—although in recent years live streaming has made a big difference.
The rest of the country, the so-called “ordinary people”, simply cannot afford the prices charged to see these stars perform live, or do not know how to go about seeing them, and therefore tend to dismiss world-class theatre, music, ballet or opera as not for the likes of them. In this way, tens of thousands of young people with the potential to become world-class stars themselves are deprived of the encouragement they need to develop their innate skills and go on to fame and fortune, either on the stage or in supporting roles. That is why making the professional arts scene more accessible is so important, and that is why I welcome this debate today.
But increasing accessibility means much more than simply subsiding ticket prices so that theatre seats become more affordable. There is, of course, no doubt that schemes such as the generous Travelex scheme, which subsidised ticket prices at the National Theatre from 2003 to 2018, enabled a larger proportion of the population to enjoy the best that this country has to offer. But the truth is that these schemes tend to benefit mainly those who are already aware of what is on offer; they do not help those who feel that high culture is not for the likes of them. The kind of accessibility that we need to encourage is far more targeted. We need accessibility schemes which are aimed at developing a love for the arts in young people and, where appropriate, developing whatever God-given latent talents they may possess.
Let me illustrate what I have in mind by talking about one such scheme which I came across last December. I refer to the Paul Hamlyn Christmas Treat at the Royal Opera House—the brainchild and gift of Helen Hamlyn, a most generous, imaginative and determined woman who really understands what targeted accessibility means and how to achieve it. Let me tell you a little about the Hamlyn Christmas treat which took place on 15 December last year, when nearly 2,000 people came to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden to enjoy a performance of “The Nutcracker”. They had all purchased their tickets but at highly discounted rates, thanks to a grant from the Helen Hamlyn Trust. The performance at 2 pm was only one part of the Christmas treat experience; the fun started as soon as the opera house’s doors opened at 11 am.
Thanks to the trust’s grant and, more particularly, the active encouragement and drive of Helen Hamlyn herself, the lucky holders of treat tickets were also provided with a wide-ranging programme of events aimed at attracting, enchanting and capturing the imagination of young people by showcasing the various skills which make the Royal Ballet one of the world’s greatest companies. There were makers’ workshops, where the opera house’s making departments demonstrated what they make and how to do it. I refer to wigs and make-up, the jewellery department, collections, the armoury, dye shop, model box, pointe shoe and costume departments. There were music and conducting workshops, where visitors were encouraged to join in. There were hugely popular ballet barre workshops, giving budding young dancers a sense of what a morning class at the Royal Ballet is like. There was also a question and answer session, where members of the audience could meet a professional ballet dancer—a top star—and ask her questions.
In addition to this entertainment, Lady Hamlyn had ensured that each visitor had a free, family-friendly programme especially created for the day, including a plot summary of the ballet and a map and details of what was happening elsewhere in the opera house. As for food, all the cafe spaces were in operation and offering a highly subsidised family-friendly menu, including children’s lunchboxes. What struck me as amazing was that, for the first time in the history of the opera house, families were allowed to bring their own food—something which was particularly well received.
To ensure that the treat benefited those who would not otherwise have experienced world-class performances, great care was taken in the allocation of tickets. Tickets were made available first to particular groups working with the disadvantaged, including a social housing organisation for homeless women and a theatre education charity which works with disadvantaged young people and those with special needs. The remainder of the tickets were sold to those who had applied for tickets for Christmas treats over the past five years but had been unable to get any because of the demand. These tickets were sold out within 24 hours.
According to the opera house, the Paul Hamlyn Christmas Treat is one of the most successful ways in which it engages and develops new audiences. Figures show that a far higher percentage of those who attended the treats go on to buy tickets for performances themselves than those who first attended the Opera House as a result of subsidised ticketing and other special offers. The treat is an outstanding example of using accessibility effectively to achieve the objective I mentioned at the outset: developing among young people an interest in, and perhaps even a love for, ballet and the arts more generally. How far the treat also encourages young people to develop their latent talents as performers only time will tell. We need many more Helen Hamlyns. They make this country more equal, more civilised and much more fun.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for introducing this debate and setting out his arguments so forcefully. I am going to take a wider view of what access might mean for theatre. We continue to have, in this country, a remarkably successful and lauded theatre. It is interesting that, at present, much of it touches closely on political and state-of-the-nation concerns. Jez Butterworth’s “The Ferryman”, which I was lucky enough to see the year before last, has just won four Tony awards, with the Almeida production of James Graham’s “Ink” winning two. However, going to the theatre, particularly in the West End, can cost an arm and a leg in a way that it used not to.
That is, in itself, something of a political point. The theatre has not always been expensive. I would certainly go with my family more if this was not so. Broadway is even more expensive than the West End and, in my research for this debate, I read an argument that the West End would be more expensive still if the prices were not held back, to an extent, through comparison with a cheaper subsidised theatre. This may be so, as long as that structure is in place. There is the problem, however, that reality becomes also the long-term perception. As director Jamie Lloyd said in an interview reported in the Daily Telegraph in 2016:
“Producers and companies who let prices spiral out of control send out a message that theatre is a luxury experience, which is deeply problematic”.
He goes on to say that,
“we are creating a divide in the audience between the rich and the poor ... You cannot let your ticket prices soar to an astronomical place just because people will pay for them. People will pay for them, but that does not mean it is right.”
Some theatre directors, including Jamie Lloyd, have addressed the theatre price hikes by offering substantially cheaper seats. Michael Grandage was in the forefront of this when, in 2012, he offered a quarter of the seats available each night for his productions at the Noel Coward Theatre for £10, at least to encourage young people less well off than those able to afford the standard tickets. As it happens, tomorrow afternoon in Portcullis House Michael Grandage will be addressing the Performers’ Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group on this very subject, about which he feels strongly. Noble Lords who would like to continue this debate, please attend. According to figures from the Society of London Theatres, an average of 77.5% of available seats in London theatres were sold in 2018 —many of them to tourists. I imagine it is difficult for the Government to see this as anything other than a great financial success and a success for the tourist industry.
Ticket prices are themselves a symptom of a wider problem of access, as I am sure many theatre directors would be the first to acknowledge. Research by LAMDA last year found that 47% of teenagers had never been to the theatre on a school trip and, perhaps even more shockingly, 31% did not know who Shakespeare was. This is where our concerns about representation in theatre should begin: in the early years and at school. If it is the private schools that are most likely to be making an arts offer, including drama, then it will become the case that that profession will be heavily dominated by the middle and upper classes, both in terms of production and, importantly, in terms of the potential audience. Concerns about opportunities for creators and for their audiences are not necessarily separable. In the last year alone there has been a reduction of 9% in the take-up of drama A-levels. Drama school audition and tuition fees also play their part in dissuading study at the higher education level. Education is a factor that government has a great deal of control over. We need STEAM, not STEM. The EBacc needs to be abolished and much more money put into arts subjects, and those opportunities need to be opened to everyone.
To talk about the health of theatre more generally is also to talk about its place in the community and to ask the very basic questions about what kind of towns, cities and city centres we want. This is again a question of access in the wider sense. Do we want a theatre in which creators and at least a part of their audience coexist within the same geographical community? Or are we happy to continue to promote the centre of London, for example, with its ludicrously high rents and house prices, as an exclusive playground—a consumer paradise for the rich—with the artists themselves having to move out to the regions, which are also under strain? Good art develops out of grass-roots concerns. This should be happening everywhere, and in this the Government need to do much more, in particular by reversing the cuts to local authorities on which so much regional theatre depends.
The Arts Council’s 2016 report Analysis of Theatre in England, which is attached to the excellent Library briefing, tells us that local authority funding of theatre fell by over half in the six years up to 2014-15, and we will have had a significant fall since then. The public deserve access not just to theatre, but to a diverse theatre that includes varied viewpoints, risk-taking and innovative productions—those most affected by the cuts. It is perhaps sobering to know that Westminster City Council has provided zero funding to the arts since 2014-15. There is a strong argument for a statutory responsibility on local councils to help make provision for the arts, including theatre, although they need the money to do so.
There is also, with the problems and opportunities facing retail outlets on our high streets and in our city centres, a growing argument that all business rates should be scrapped—an area that, interestingly, Michael Gove has touched on in the leadership race. Theatres, including those which are subsidised, have seen their rates rise dramatically. In some cases, as with live music venues, this threatens their very existence. Will the Government look more closely at the debilitating effect of business rates on our theatres and concert and music venues, particularly those without rates relief, where this is a critical concern?
One good thing the Government did was to introduce theatre tax relief in 2014, and I very much hope that that remains. There is, however, the question of whether all who are eligible to claim are in fact doing so. Is the Minister aware of this?
As in all the arts, most people who work in the theatre do so out of a love of it and an inner necessity, certainly not for the money. It should not be forgotten that the grass-roots energy of the subsidised regional theatre feeds the West End. However, in an article in the Stage in October last year, at the time of the latest successful UK Theatre Awards, respected critic Lyn Gardner sent out a warning signal, quoting Nicholas Hytner, of “a real crisis looming”. Hytner said:
“The reps at the moment are doing fantastic work but they don’t know how much longer they can do it for”.
There is no doubt that if the funding situation continues to deteriorate then we will have reduced productions, less innovative work and significantly curtailed access for everyone. At the very least, as Lyn Gardner says:
“The challenge is to create the conditions which mean we will still be celebrating in five years’ time”.
My Lords, even though the Arts Council analysis of theatre in England reveals how the Midlands is underserved in theatre, I speak from a diocese that has international, national, regional and local treasures, and from a city that will be the UK’s City of Culture in 2021. The million or so people of Coventry and Warwickshire are rich in creativity and are reaching out for the sort of accessibility that is the intention of the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, whom I thank for securing this important debate and for his wide-ranging introductory speech. I am very glad to speak in this debate, not least because I am the only speaker in costume today—fittingly dressed.
There is much I would like to say about our most renowned local theatre, the RSC in Stratford, but I will simply note its work among young people. It has an impressive accessibility scheme, to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman. It works with young people across the UK in their own schools and local theatres, often in the sort of contexts where people would look on Shakespeare and theatre as belonging to a very alien world, bringing rehearsal techniques into their classrooms, listening to their reaction to Shakespeare’s abiding themes, and enabling them to see that these are their texts for their lives, and that this is a world to which they belong and through which they can interpret their world. I am told that it has engaged 1,000 schools and 600,000 children and young people over the past year. The test for the theatre market in all its forms is whether it will allow people the right of access to performance across the country that belongs to them.
I will focus on Coventry itself. I am honoured to follow the powerful speech of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on regionalisation. We are not a rich city: privilege is rare. We are a religiously, racially and culturally diverse city. We are a city with a young population, a creative city not only in industry and invention but in music, literature and drama. Our wartime experience shaped us for peace, reconciliation and sanctuary, yet our social inequalities and injustices are similar to those of other cities: ill health, physical and mental, poor diet, low aspiration, stubborn and deep pockets of poverty, homelessness, youth violence and the like.
All of those strengths and challenges were taken into our bid to be the UK’s City of Culture and, harnessed well by the energy of the city, were the cause of its award. Our main but by no means only theatre, the Belgrade, was built in the post-war reconstruction of Coventry: heady with ideals of democracy, accessibility and risk-taking creativity that marked those days. Over the years, to its credit, it has kept faith with that vision, expressed not so much in great art and culture for everyone but in great art and culture by, with and for everyone. It seeks to test that aspiration empirically. I should be very interested in the noble Viscount’s assessment of the Belgrade’s work with local universities to develop research frameworks that quantify impacts on inclusion and engagement, and the potential of such evidence-based approaches to support strategic interventions to increase accessibility.
The concept of a people’s theatre runs deep in Coventry: not to show people theatre that others think they should see but to work with them to produce theatre that is true to themselves, expressing and effecting the social change they want. That vision for cultural democracy is at the heart of Coventry City of Culture: Coventry-led, community-led production that represents all of Coventry’s citizens. It is less about producing big, prestige events for typical theatregoers, and more about working with community organisations in key areas where ordinary life rubs hard and where it hurts: youth exploitation, homelessness, poverty, mental health, loneliness, inequality and isolation.
I know that not every place can have access to the resources made available to a city of culture, but I am interested in the noble Viscount’s view on some of the principles involved in truly and radically increasing participation in theatre that are being trialled in Coventry at the moment, and the implications for funding and other strategic interventions, including long-term, well-targeted public subsidy. For example, cultural democracy requires performance spaces in the everyday life of the community. Coventry’s Shop Front Theatre in an old fish and chip shop is a great example. Will the Government encourage the Arts Council’s new strategy of supporting community or grass-roots venues—amateur theatres, pub theatres, church theatres, community centres, music venues and the like—recognising that the ecosystem of theatre relies on those small, fragile venues to draw people into the world of theatre and nurture new talent?
Coventry City of Culture is being much helped by the involvement of Stratford’s RSC Theatre, as well as—if I may single it out among many other local community players—Coventry’s own cathedral, which, as noble Lords might imagine, offers dramatic theatrical settings, both ancient and modern. Is that not a good model for increasing participation that is worth replicating: the great theatres of our land, with their international reach, working with town, city and regional theatres and local institutions that have performance spaces ready to be made more publicly accessible—places where the great themes of human culture have been played out in song, poetry, drama and dance for centuries?
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry. We all wish Coventry well as the next City of Culture. We have seen what an impact that has had on places such as Glasgow, Liverpool and Hull; I am sure that Coventry will prove just as exciting.
As the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, indicated, there is always a danger of this debate being seen as a grumpy old Earl and his chums complaining that they cannot get the best seats. However, the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry disprove that motive. Nothing could be further from the truth concerning my noble friend Lord Glasgow: he is never grumpy and, as he explained in opening the debate, his motives for mounting this campaign are far wider and more fundamental than getting a decent seat for himself. I congratulate him on securing the debate and on the spirit in which he introduced it.
For hundreds of years, the theatre has been at the heart of our cultural, social and political life. Quotes from plays and songs enrich our language. Our playwrights, particularly Shakespeare, have given voice to our sense of national identity. Plays have often captured the spirit of an age or more fundamental changes in society; John Osborne’s “Look Back in Anger” is an example of that. So it would be a matter of real concern if access to the best of our theatre were to be fenced off from the general public by high ticket prices so that it became available only to the very rich from home or abroad.
We will hear lots of figures bandied about implying that the problem does not really exist, but there are two indications that it does. First, five years ago, the New York Times wrote about the combination of superb quality and low prices that made London theatre such a bargain compared with Broadway. I do not think that such an article would be written today; my noble friend Lord Glasgow quoted some relevant figures. Secondly, in preparation for the debate, we received briefings setting out a cascade of initiatives listing ways to make tickets available to wider groups in society—a sign that the industry itself is aware of its vulnerability to charges of elitism and profiteering.
My attention was first drawn to the pricing issue when looking for a ticket for a popular National Theatre production. I found an American-located site offering two tickets at £500 each. The offer was for two specific, dated tickets with row and seat numbers. Sport and music venues are already taking measures to prevent such blatant profiteering. I understand that if you buy a National Theatre ticket, it states clearly that resale for commercial purposes is prohibited. Has the Minister spoken to the National Theatre about this issue or the measures it is taking to stop this kind of excess?
My noble friend Lord Glasgow has also drawn attention to the opaque nature of the secondary ticketing market. Perhaps in his reply the Minister could update us on how his department is following up on the Waterson review on secondary ticket markets, published in May 2016, and tell us whether he and his department are supportive of letting the Competition and Markets Authority investigate secondary ticketing markets and the operation of the primary ticket market by the West End theatres—which, as my noble friend Lord Glasgow pointed out, have a near-monopoly on tickets.
A number of noble Lords have referred to the regional theatre, and the Motion refers specifically to,
“elsewhere in the United Kingdom”.
I know my noble friend Lord Foster will make some reference to regional theatre.
I will end by reminiscing about two personal experiences that helped plant in me a lasting love of the theatre. The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, both talked about encouraging young people. My first school was the Sacred Heart Primary School in Thornton, near Blackpool. When I was nine or 10, a new teacher came to the school; her name was Mary Ormandy. She taught us drama not by reading from books in rotation, which was the general standard then, but by letting us make up our own plays and dialogue. She instilled in us the sense of excitement that the theatre can provide. Can the Minister tell us of any initiatives his department is taking to ensure that drama has its proper place in our state schools, as so passionately called for by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty?
My second memory is also from childhood. My father was a process worker at ICI, but he had a love of theatre. When I was about 10 years old, I was taken to the Grand Theatre in Blackpool. During the summer months a farce usually ran at the Grand, with some famous music hall star such as Arthur Askey, Sid James or Hylda Baker in the lead. In winter there were regular visits from plays on their way to and from the West End. I clearly remember seeing Jack Warner in a play by Ted Willis called “The Blue Lamp”, in which a policeman called George Dixon was shot in the first act. It proved so successful that PC Dixon made a remarkable recovery and continued on our television for about the next 20 years. I also saw Emlyn Williams star in his own play, “Night Must Fall”. Even 60 years later, I remember the thrill of that experience in the theatre. I know how important the provincial theatre is and am pleased to have heard the support for it from the right reverend Prelate, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and others.
Much of the evidence we have received underlines the success and vibrancy of our theatre, and we want to take nothing away from that success. Today’s debate was instigated by those who want to see it continue to thrive and to enrich our national life, but to do that we need a diverse, inclusive West End with access for all; a flourishing network of theatres in our regions and nations; and an education system that promotes drama and the other creative disciplines. I think this is an optimistic debate, and I now gladly hand the stage to the noble Baroness, Lady Flather.
I am not wearing a costume, I am terribly sorry, but I must say that London theatre has very much been part of my life. I cannot imagine living without access to good theatre. I did not like amateur theatre, and some of my friends who were very keen on it were quite put off by my saying that I prefer professional theatre—and I do.
My husband was diagnosed with MS in 1983. By the time he died, just under two years ago, he was very disabled. He could not do anything for himself, and towards the end of his life, he had to be fed. But his brain kept on working, and he kept on working until he was about 75, which was extremely good for him. If you can work and use your skills in some way, it keeps you going. I think that is why he managed to live for as long as he did.
I feel extremely sad about how difficult it is for disabled people to get to most theatres. Some theatres have space for wheelchairs in certain rows, but they are never the best seats, where you can see and hear well, and more than any of us disabled people need to be able to see and hear well. Taking my husband to the theatre was a big event. I had to work out everything: how we were going to get there, how long beforehand we had to get there and how we were going to get in. Others do not have to do that; if you want to go to the theatre, all you need to do is get tickets. But for a disabled person, it is an event. It is very sad when not enough attention is paid to where a disabled person is going to have to sit.
Just recently, I saw “The Lehman Trilogy”—the best of the best. If any of your Lordships have not seen it, I recommend that they do. It is fantastic: the acting is fantastic and the set, though very simple, is fantastic. There are just three actors, but it is amazing theatre. It is the best of the London stage. But my husband could not have gone to Piccadilly Theatre: there are so many stairs to go up and come down that it is impossible for a disabled person to go there. There is no lift and no way of getting a disabled person in. It is a beautiful Victorian theatre, but with no access for disabled people. My little moan is about access. There are so many shows that disabled people want to see, but they have to work out whether it is possible for them to go there.
I live very close to Theatre Royal Windsor, and it is very good. It has an area—sort of like a lower dress circle—with seats for disabled people. They do not have to deal with stairs, and the theatre will take out seats for you if you have a wheelchair. It is wonderful. We often used to go to the Theatre Royal, because it has a lot of shows that come from London, with some very good actors. It is wonderful that someone who is disabled can sit in a place where they are comfortable and can see everything. If we are talking about theatres elsewhere, I would like to say a good word for the Theatre Royal in Windsor. Because it is near London, a lot of London shows come for either a week or 10 days—it is not for very long, but for at least a week, and sometimes even two if a show is considered very popular. It is wonderful to be able to go to the Theatre Royal, but there are so many theatres with a lot of steps, and so you cannot take a disabled person there.
One of the problems is that English Heritage hates allowing any changes to be made to these buildings. It does not like any lifts et cetera. I have a friend who lives on the third floor of a building in Lincoln’s Inn. She was told she could not have a lift, so they have given her a “tractor”—the thing that climbs up the stairs, if you know what I mean. Three floors in a tractor takes a lot of time, and getting a disabled person into that tractor is also difficult.
Altogether, many things are not accessible to disabled people. This is important because they should be able to enjoy what we can enjoy. They should be able to go to things which we take for granted. I make a plea for people to think about disability and make provision for it. It is all right—we will pay. If someone is very disabled, carers are admitted at a reduced price, which is also good, but if you cannot go there, there is not much point in being able to take a carer. We have to think more about lifts, how a disabled person can manage stairs and so on. I do not think it is fair.
I have been coming here since 1947. The first show I enjoyed seeing most was Laurel and Hardy on stage. That gives my age away. I have enjoyed many other shows, including shows by Ivor Novello and “The Merry Widow”. My mother used to enjoy going to the theatre and I went with her. I started going to the theatre in 1947 and have not stopped since. I have enjoyed almost all of the shows that I have seen—I am quite careful about choosing which ones I want to see.
I would like everyone to be able to go to everything they want to go to. I know it is expensive, but at least let it be accessible to those who can afford to go because, whether or not you have money, if you are disabled you cannot go. You cannot see the “The Lehman Trilogy”, and everyone should see that.
My Lords, follow that. It will not be easy. However, I hope that I have a couple of lines, which might cheer you up, on how one gets one’s husband up there.
I learned a great deal when I was Minister for Business and Intellectual Property. I thought it was going to be stiff and difficult but the intellectual property part proved to be marvellous. I learned a great deal from the theatre and Equity and I was drawn to the House as I never had been before. Today I will speak for a couple of minutes. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for her terrific speech. It has got us all going, and here are my pet few words to encourage the theatre as much as I can.
The reason for the lack audiences for many years was that little of interest was being produced—I am happy to say that is now changing—and that attending theatres was not in the culture of certain areas. It is an uphill task promoting programmes of interest but, happily, more and more young ethnic people are getting together and becoming involved in theatre, both production and performing. It is wonderful to see that. The media has done a lot to help us here and we must encourage access wherever we can.
The fact that various surveys showed that the bulk of audiences were from a white, affluent public does not surprise me as the Arts Council has severely cut grants and managements have had to hike up ticket prices to cover the ever-soaring cost of productions. However, more cheerfully, our National Theatre and the Opera House both have a plan to provide low-priced tickets to students and people below a certain age. It is also possible, if one is prepared to be at the box office at 10 am, to purchase tickets that are only released on the day. However, this only helps a small minority of people, which is not good.
Most of the theatres I encounter now have facilities for disabled people, although the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, would not agree, and many managements will sell a registered disabled person two tickets for the price of one to enable them to bring a carer, which is at least a small gesture—by West End as well as provincial theatres—if they cannot get on a bit faster than that.
What we have heard today is not good enough. We love the theatre. That is the reason we are here and why we are doing this. Each one of us can tell a different story. We need to make theatre more accessible and get the young there as much as we can. I listened to my noble friend Lord Wasserman’s wonderful speech and his lovely stories. Many London theatres are Victorian or older and disabled access can be very difficult, but managements are doing their best. I read a Library briefing on theatre accessibility, and I thank the library clerks for it. It was very good piece of writing. It took me back and got me thinking again. It is nice to feel that we have people to help us in that way. All I want to do now is sit down and make sure that we get a marvellous finale.
My Lords, I cannot promise that, but I will begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Glasgow not only on securing this debate but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, said, on getting us going. I congratulate other noble Lords on their contributions. They all highlighted the important role that theatres play in our cultural life. They give enormous enjoyment and benefit to individuals and also benefit society as a whole in ways ranging from improved health and social care outcomes to help with regeneration, as my noble friend Lord McNally and the in-costume right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry pointed out, and regional growth.
I have enjoyed some amazing productions, from “Hamilton” through to am-dram performances in venues such as the excellent Mission Theatre in Bath. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, that if she were to go to the Mission Theatre in Bath she would see some excellent acting and production. It does not all have to be done in the professional theatre.
As other noble Lords have said, there is much to celebrate. Audience figures are rising and more people are going to the theatre than watch football, but as all noble Lords have pointed out, more needs to be done to make theatres accessible to a wider audience. As we have heard, three years ago Arts Council figures showed that people with minority ethnic backgrounds and disabilities were underrepresented in theatre audiences while wealthier people were overrepresented. Three years on, quite a lot has happened and while, as the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, pointed out, more needs to be done, theatre renovations and new-build projects are beginning to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. Technological developments have made a big difference. The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, pointed out the great benefits of cinema screenings of theatre productions, there has been help for people who are hard of hearing or visually impaired and there are techniques to build relationships with existing and potential audiences. Arts Council funding brings with it a requirement for outreach work which is also helping to build audiences. The Courtyard in Hereford, for example, works with 97% of Herefordshire schools and 77 care homes and has opened the first UK dementia-friendly arts centre. Even theatres without public subsidy are doing some exciting things. The Theatre Royal in Bath produces plays not only for its own stage but for other regional theatres, the West End and internationally, and the profits help fund the amazing egg, its dedicated theatre for children and families, and grants to local arts organisations.
High theatre ticket prices have already been mentioned and they are undoubtedly a barrier for some. Mention has also been made of various discount initiatives, such as the National Theatre’s Friday rush, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, pointed out, they tend to benefit those who are already aware of them and young single people who can be flexible. They are not so helpful to parents who want to plan a trip to the theatre with their children. For them, “pay what you choose” schemes, operating in theatres such as the Theatre Royal in Margate, are more helpful. I was recently at the 25th birthday party of the Next Stage Theatre Company based in the wonderful Mission Theatre in Bath. To widen participation, it has introduced such a scheme for its matinees. While the average amount paid for each matinee ticket has fallen, attendances overall at the theatre have increased, as well as the overall box office takings, so it is a win-win. Just today, participating West End theatres have started selling tickets for Kids Week: in August, for every adult ticket bought one child goes free and a second goes half-price. I certainly hope that the scheme will be repeated in other school holidays.
Improving accessibility also means ensuring that there are productions which attract those currently underrepresented in theatre audiences—productions which represent the lives of a wider cross-section of society. Lenny Henry is doing some excellent work to make this happen. I am sure we all welcome productions such as the National Theatre’s version of Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island, telling the Windrush story. While a lot of good things have been going on, helped in part by the theatre tax relief introduced by the coalition Government in 2014, it is difficult to know what impact they are having as there appears to have been no recent wide-scale demographic survey of theatre audiences. Does the Minister agree that we need data showing what measures are most effective in widening audience participation? If so, what steps will the Government take to ensure that such data is collected? Does he also share my view and that of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, that the Government’s failure to include creative subjects in the EBacc means that arts education is beginning to be marginalised and is also likely to make schools less inclined to engage with local theatres, thus depriving children whose parents are not theatregoers from having an early theatre experience?
There is already clear evidence that the arts have taken a hit during the period of austerity. Many hard-strapped councils—we heard about Westminster—no longer have the funds to support local theatres. The current economic uncertainty means that corporate support is diminishing and is increasingly risk-averse. As the Commons Select Committee works on its review of business rates, can the Minister confirm that since April many theatres have seen a significant hike in their business rates? Can he also confirm that government funding for theatres is roughly in line with the money the Government actually receive from theatres through VAT? Will he put an analysis of all these figures in the Library and at least commit to lobbying the Chancellor for a better deal for theatres in the comprehensive spending review?
In such a difficult financial climate, it is important that West End theatres do not kill the goose that is currently laying their golden egg with ever-increasing ticket prices, as has been mentioned by so many noble Lords. This is especially important because of the potential knock-on effect on the rest of the country’s theatres. The West End is critical to the whole theatre ecology. Nearly half of last year’s audiences of 34 million went to West End theatres, which took over 60% of ticket revenues. As my noble friend has said, West End theatres are owned by only four companies. Unlike elsewhere, it is those theatre owners and the ticket agencies which tend to benefit from higher ticket prices rather than the producers. I believe in a free market, but where the cost of top-price tickets is rising significantly—many argue without justification—there surely has to be a question about how free and fair the market is. That is why I support my noble friend’s call for a market study into this segment of the market. I wonder whether the Minister supports that too.
More widely, we have also had the CMA and Waterson reviews of ticketing. Recommendations were made about the need to increase transparency about available ticket outlets, the pricing structure and, more generally, about how the market operates across primary and secondary ticket sellers. I echo my noble friend Lord McNally in asking the Minister to review progress and assess whether more needs to be done.
While there is much to celebrate, there are a number of worrying trends which, if not addressed, could see our theatres increasingly putting on only crowd-pleasing productions aimed at the mainstream, with the more challenging and enriching works not being backed.
My Lords, I hope that I may begin by giving my attention to the Lib Dem Benches: first, to thank the noble Earl for giving us this debate; and, secondly—I hope that this is permissible—to offer an apology to the noble Lord, Lord Foster, as I was in error in referring in an earlier debate today to an initiative in terms of the BBC that was due to him, as he will see from Hansard. I apologise for that.
When we come to the debate in hand, there are some very important things to say. I asked members of my staff to give me bullet points—I have 18 of them. I have put circles around all the subjects that have already been referred to, so I shall not repeat them—I think that that is a good discipline. But there are others that have not been mentioned and I hope to refer to those.
Perhaps I may begin on a personal note. I began my working career as a lecturer in medieval English at the University of Wales. One course that I loved teaching was the origins of English drama, from the Latin Mass of the Roman Catholic Church to street theatre in Chester and York, and the mystery plays right up to Shakespeare himself. As a consequence of that experience, I was imbued with the sense that the theatre originated with ordinary people in ordinary situations—in the streets, in church or in public places—and that is where I will focus my attention. Shakespeare himself—bawdy, rowdy Shakespeare—welcomed the groundlings as much as the aristocracy of his day. Indeed, he used the audience to whip up feelings about the aristocracy of the day. I would love that to happen in theatre.
In preparing for this debate, I thought not of theatres but of theatre. Aristotle was clear that catharsis and mimesis were the two strands that theatre allowed people to explore and enjoy. He believed that theatre could touch the feelings and inspire the following of an example, and that remains pretty much a noble ambition for drama today. It was in “Hamlet”, after all, that we got to the heart of the mystery—or at least Hamlet himself thought that he was getting to the heart of the mystery—by putting on a play. The play is the thing—“wherein to catch the conscience of the king”. Of course, in our day it is not the conscience of the king but what is happening on the streets: what people are thinking; how the population of this land votes to leave Europe; what is in the minds of the people; and how drama touches those themes and elicits responses to the concerns being expressed.
I have had a lot to do with young people who have begun careers in acting schools. Incidentally, one might just note how expensive it is to be trained in an acting school. It costs much more than other parts of higher education and it would be good if we could do something about that. But the actors that I am thinking about do not come out to have glamorous careers on the stage; they come out in order to go back into the communities that bred them, which are often very cosmopolitan, inner-city communities. They go back to listen to the concerns of young people and bring them back to a properly trained playwright, to turn those concerns into drama, and to reflect the concerns back to the children who voiced them in the first place. I have seen remarkable pieces of community development happen through theatre, and I wish that the briefing that I had had and the concerns that we have expressed recognised the level at which theatre plays its part in the shaping of a national consciousness and the bringing to bear of noble qualities, sometimes in very disadvantaged places.
I am chair of the board of the Central Foundation Schools of London: a boys’ school in Islington and a girls’ school in Tower Hamlets. Some 85% of our girls wear the hijab to school. Both schools happened to put on “Macbeth” at the same time. To see a Muslim girl acting Macbeth in Tower Hamlets and a very shy African boy playing Lady Macbeth in Islington was itself wondrous in these transgendered days, as we think about sexual identity and the rest of it—most interesting. Because of our foundation’s endowment, we can give money to the school budget to put the performing arts and music into the curriculum, so that the wretched STEM business that excludes the creative arts can be challenged. We can hear those children play the piano or saxophone, or put on plays they have often written—and why not? It does not have to be James Graham or David Hare alone who can explore the themes of the day.
Looking at this subject in its entirety, my regret is that we are in danger of starving our schoolchildren of an exposure through the creative arts to ways of understanding truth, themselves, and the societies in which they live. Only through success in that area can we hope to have people going into theatres, which are so underrepresented by ordinary people from ordinary communities these days. What can we do—please—to address that serious question?
I went to see “Hamilton”. I have another confession: hip-hop is not my métier. I had read the 818 pages of Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton before I went in, because reading is my métier. Armed with that, I saw this extraordinarily diverse cast put on a wonderfully choreographed piece of work—and an audience with not more than two black faces in it, which was extraordinary. When the tickets are priced as they are, incidentally, I can recommend having older sons who save money to take their parents to see “Hamilton”. Soon I shall go to see “Small Island”. And what about Nottingham, Scarborough, Stoke-on-Trent and Bath as places that have fostered theatre in areas outside London, with some most inventive programmes?
In all these ways, my hope would be that a debate of this kind would direct our attention to how we deal not only with the overpriced good seats in the West End of London but with the engendering of enthusiasm among young people who, through the performing arts, can discover more about themselves and the society in which they live.
My Lords, I would like to thank all noble Lords for participating in today’s debate on the UK theatre sector, and I particularly thank the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, for initiating it. I happen to be a great admirer of the noble Earl, and I, and the House, acknowledge his considerable experience, inter alia, as a film and television documentary producer. I believe he has presented his case today with as much precision and thought as has clearly gone into the production of the panoply of splendid colours that adorn the crenellations of Kelburn Castle. I hope to make him feel at home in wearing this tie of several colours in perhaps pale imitation.
I declare an interest as I have a daughter who works for RADA Business, the growing commercial offshoot which passes profits back to help young actors. I am also a patron of Garsington Opera, which is one of the finest examples of excellence in the performing arts outside London—I am pleased to get in a plug for something I am very proud of.
As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, the UK has a rich theatrical history, which goes back from the medieval mystery plays, via the theatrical exploits of the Elizabethan era, to the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan in the 19th century. I should probably stop right there because maybe on a separate occasion we would benefit greatly from an arts history lecture from the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, given the Afghan experience that he laid out for us.
Yet with all due respect to the astonishing achievements of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, it is arguable that the quality of UK theatre has never been higher than at present, and we heard some interesting stories from the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, in that regard. Our theatres and productions are internationally acclaimed. My noble friend Lord Wasserman called the arts and indeed the theatre sector a national treasure, and I believe he is correct. The likes of “Hamilton”, which was raised in today’s debate, “The Phantom of the Opera” and, of course, the longest-running play in history, “The Mousetrap”, choose to make the West End their home. The international touring achievements of productions such as “War Horse”, created in our own publicly funded National Theatre, are a marriage of box-office success and exceptional creative accomplishment.
Of course, theatre in this country does not have a history just in the capital and on its stages. Mystery plays were created and performed in parishes all over the British Isles, and the theatre of today is no different. There are regional and provincial theatres, as mentioned by several noble Lords today. We have the clifftop Minack Theatre in Cornwall. We have a former gentlemen’s lavatory in Malvern which has been converted into the so-called Theatre of Small Convenience, the smallest theatre in the country. At the other end of the scale, the largest theatre in the country is the Edinburgh Playhouse, with over 3,000 seats.
I turn to the question of publicly funded theatre. The noble Earls, Lord Glasgow and Lord Clancarty, are right to raise the question of whether high ticket prices prevent access to our fantastic theatres and productions, and I note the comments that were made in the debate today. Publicly funded art should be accessible to the nation, and therefore performances put on by organisations receiving public funding should have elements that are affordable.
Ensuring that theatre and the performing arts are accessible to all is one of the primary reasons why Arts Council England invested over £120 million in theatre projects in 2018-19. Over £72 million of that funding was outside London. In particular, Arts Council England expects the organisations that it funds to explain how they are using public funding to deliver against the Arts Council’s plan to make the arts more diverse, set out in the “Creative Case for Diversity”. Arts organisations are expected to take a range of steps to make their work as accessible as possible, and many organisations include reduced price tickets as part of that.
Let us look at London, for example. As well as more expensive tickets for those who can afford it, the Young Vic offers £10 tickets for every production for young people, and a £5 first preview lottery. The Manchester Royal Exchange provides access tickets for people from deprived areas who have never attended the theatre. In that way, a judicious mixture of funding and pressure from the Arts Council helps to keep prices lower in the publicly funded theatres in this country than they would have otherwise have been. The latest UK Theatre report shows that although average ticket prices slightly increased in 2018, a significant range of prices is available, meaning that no one is barred from accessing publicly funded theatres based on price. That contributed to total UK theatre audiences in 2018 increasing by over 60,000 compared to 2017—an encouraging increase that demonstrates the still-growing appeal of theatre.
However, it is important to recognise that theatres in England generally divide into two types: there are those theatres that receive funding from the Government, via Arts Council England, and those that do not. The latter type, which one could describe as entirely commercial theatres, represents a private sector of our economy, which again was alluded today in today’s debate. That sector contains businesses that do not receive any public subsidy and are similar to the wholly commercial pop music part of the music industry. Given the absence of government subsidy, the Government do not intervene to influence the prices of tickets to see the likes of the Spice Girls at Wembley. Similarly, the Government do not intervene to influence the prices of tickets in the West End.
However, some noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, raised concerns that some of the prices in the West End are kept artificially high due to anti-competitive practices. We take these concerns very seriously. As with any part of the economy, if there are anti-competitive practices, it is right for the Government to intervene.
I acknowledge the point the noble Earl made about the fact that there are essentially four organisations in this sector, the Ambassador Theatre Group, Delfont Mackintosh, LW Theatres and Nimax. As he said, West End theatre is not strictly defined, but is generally understood to be either theatres that are members of SOLT, or those that are eligible for the Olivier Awards. The average ticket price paid for West End theatre in 2018 was £49.25, up 5.5% compared to 2017. There is more that I could say about this, but I will move on.
On the point about anti-competitiveness, the Competition and Markets Authority has a remit that spans the whole UK economy and carries out work whenever there is evidence that consumers are coming to harm as a result of anti-competitive practices. It does not currently have any investigations into the West End ticket market. However, if any evidence concerning anti-competitive practices is shared with it, I am confident it will consider this very carefully.
There is, of course, much concern regarding the online secondary ticketing market more generally. The noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, raised this matter. I am aware this is a cause of worry for many consumers. It is important to give the message that the Government are determined to crack down on illegal behaviour in the ticketing market. As this House will remember, through the Digital Economy Act 2017, we have strengthened legislation in this area. Legal action against certain online ticket sellers over the last year shows that this work is bearing fruit, and those seeking to exploit fans, theatregoers or ticket buyers are finding it more and more difficult to do so. I reassure the House that we will keep a very close eye on this matter.
Your Lordships will recognise that championing accessibility and inclusion in theatre does not just mean ensuring that ticket costs are low. I listened with interest to the initiative mentioned by my noble friend Lord Wasserman about the Hamlyn Trust and the fact it has opened up places to the Royal Opera House. I also took note of the great deal of thought that went into that visit. To this end, to enable every member of the public to access theatre, it is very important to ensure that the buildings are fit for purpose, the programming is varied and challenging and the workforce reflects the diverse nature of the UK today.
On buildings being fit for purpose, the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, mentioned the importance of people with disabilities having proper access. My noble friend Lady Wilcox said that theatres need to be better and smarter at pricing tickets for disabled people. It is a very good point. The Government and the Arts Council are both committed to seeing this happen, and through the expectations under the Creative Case for Diversity, the Arts Council looks hard at whether organisations are making their workforces more diverse.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry raised important points about Coventry. I am delighted that it has been selected to be the UK City of Culture in 2021. The Budget includes £8.5 million of capital to support heritage regeneration in the Cathedral Quarter, Drapers’ Hall and the Belgrade Theatre, which he mentioned. This is very exciting.
Coventry City of Culture 2021 is focused on closing the gaps in access to high-quality arts and culture by reaching into those areas with the lowest levels of opportunity. Targets include 80% of residents attending at least three events, a 40% increase in out-of-school engagement for economically disadvantaged children and a 20% increase in young, diverse audiences and makers. I am sure the right reverend Prelate will agree that all this activity will be highly beneficial to community cohesion, which he brought up in his speech, and inspire participation in the arts, particularly for young people. As such, the Government have welcomed the creative industries’ desire to increase the number of apprenticeships in the sector and the commitments in the creative industries sector deal to improve careers advice in the creative industries.
I will make a point about the EBacc, which was raised by several noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Foster. I probably sound a bit like a long-playing record, and I did check with officials beforehand, but I will say this again and re-emphasise the Government’s stance. The EBacc is designed so that there is still room in the curriculum for other subjects. It covers seven GCSEs, or eight for those taking triple science. In 2018, most pupils took eight or more GCSEs and equivalent qualifications, rising to nine for pupils with high prior attainment, which leaves time for pupils to study other subjects. There is no evidence that arts subjects have declined as a result of the introduction of the EBacc performance measure in 2010. Since the EBacc was announced the proportion of young people taking at least one arts GCSE has fluctuated across the years, we admit, but it has remained broadly stable.
Organisations are also increasingly diversifying the nature of the performances they put on. For instance, the Arts Council-funded organisations VocalEyes and Stagetext support the sector to ensure blind, partially sighted, deaf and hard-of-hearing people can access live performance.
Our country’s theatres have demonstrated adaptability and a willingness to change to help make performance accessible to the public, both through adapting performances and lowering prices as needed. As my noble friend Lord Wasserman mentioned, many of us will be aware of the use of technology in live-streaming theatre performance and how this has opened up access in theatre. This is another area where the UK leads the world. National Theatre Live from the National Theatre, Northern Ballet and the Royal Shakespeare Company all continue to share high-quality work across the UK in this way.
I am aware that time is marching on and I have quite a few questions still to answer. I will read Hansard and put together probably quite a long letter to all Peers who took part in the debate. There were several interesting questions from the noble Lord, Lord Foster, on data and audience participation, which is still in its infancy in the arts sector. I would like to write a proper letter to him on that point.
DCMS has supported all the work for theatre in and outside London following the publication of Culture is Digital last year. Since then, I know that DCMS and the Arts Council have been working closely to support cultural sector organisations to improve their digital skills and put more theatre online. This means that those who might struggle to physically attend theatres are still able to benefit. That is a very good note to finish on.
House adjourned at 6.52 pm.