In my column this week I’m going to attempt to talk about three different things that, in my mind, are connected. See if I can convince you likewise.
1. I promised last time I would write about Sunday openings for theatres. So: lots of people like going to the theatre. As well as being palaces of art, theatres are businesses. A business becomes successful when it caters for its audience. For a lot of us, our spare time happens on a weekend. Ergo, theatres should be absolutely hammering every last hour of every weekend. Matinees, morning performances – it’s when the audience is available, make it easy for the audience to get what it wants.
2. I have waited a long time to see actual colour-blind casting in Yorkshire. I’m sure it must have happened before, but to see British Asian actor Darren Kuppan playing ‘Frank Armitage’ in An August Bank Holiday Lark was brilliant. The fact that it was a surprise in 2014 is sad, but when a company as traditionally Yorkshire as Northern Broadsides starts colour-blind casting, you know we’re finally getting somewhere.
3. During the interval of the play I was in the bar at The Viaduct, Halifax. I put my empty glass on a table (the bar was full of punters) and went for a wander. As I passed back by the table, I was accosted by a silver-haired man now sitting at the table. He shouted loudly to his wife, “here he is, that’s him”. I thought my reputation was preceding me and was about to offer an autograph when he said “take that glass off my table. Get rid of it. I don’t want it on my table.” When I laughed in his face, it was out of embarrassment – for him more than anything else.
How do these three things link in my mind? A couple of weeks ago, the excellent Lyn Gardner wrote in The Guardian that theatre remains ‘white and middle class’. When I looked around the Viaduct theatre last week, I realised the only other face in the venue that looked like mine was Darren’s.
Theatres have to become welcoming to as wide a section of society is possible, regardless of class, or age, or race – if not for moral reasons, for economic ones. They claim to want to see audiences of all creeds – reflect us on stage, see what happens.
The man who told me so rudely to take the glass off his table might be used to talking to people who look like me in a certain way. But what if I wasn’t a professional theatre critic of 15 years (I wasn’t dressed like one. The Viaduct can be cold so I was wearing a hoodie)? What if I was just some bloke on a rare trip to the theatre and someone spoke to me like that? I wouldn’t be hurrying back.
It is the responsibility of theatres to throw their doors open – wide – and make sure everyone feels welcome. Maybe we all have a role to play in that.