Nick Ahad: Theatre should be for all – not just the rich and privileged few

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In tomorrow’s Yorkshire Post magazine you can read my interview with one of the country’s best producers, and now one of my favourite ever interviewees, David Pugh.

The man who brought Art, Equus and The Full Monty to the stage is hoping to repeat his theatre magic when he stages The Girls at Leeds Grand in November. Of the hour-long interview I can only share a little, much of it was outrageous and vast swathes of it would see me sued. But there was one passage I’d like to relate, with the profanities removed.

“If I get my job right, I get to take people out of themselves for a couple of hours a night – and I don’t want to just do that for rich people. I want everyone to come to the theatre, which is why I get angry at extortionate ticket prices. We are becoming elitist. Times are tough out there and theatre is becoming something that’s just for the rich and that is plain wrong. I didn’t sign up for that. There are young actors working today who don’t realise that all they are doing is playing to rich people.”

As a theatre producer, Pugh is a businessman, so it was unusual to hear him talking in such terms. Plus, he charges a pretty penny for some of his own shows (but always makes sure that bottom price tickets are available and as cheap as he can afford to make them – £10 for The Girls, coming to Leeds in November). What I realised as we spoke, however, was that this attitude comes from the fact that Pugh is a normal lad from Stoke. Dad was a teacher, mum a school secretary. He’s a big deal these days. Friends with showbiz legends, the man who put Harry Potter on stage in Equus, but he’s not forgotten where he’s come from. Oh, and I echo every last word that he said to me, above. Theatre isn’t for the elite, it never has been. It’s always been one of the most powerful places that you can hear the voice of the people since the time of the Greek amphitheatres.

Someone else who displayed this same attitude whenever I met him was someone the world of comedy mourned this week. I interviewed David Nobbs a few times, for both the Yorkshire Post and on the radio for my shows at BBC Radio Leeds. Always polite and funny, he was a great interviewee, but where I saw what David Nobbs was really about was in his interactions with Script Yorkshire. A support network for writers, this volunteer-run, passionate group hosts workshops and all manner of events. The creator of Reginald Perrin was the patron of Script Yorkshire and whenever he was at events he had infinite patience in talking to young writers starting out on their careers. Despite his towering reputation, he couldn’t have been more generous with his time.

It’s people like these two Davids – Pugh and Nobbs – who remind us that writing, theatre, is a way to share our humanity. And that is something that belongs to no particular group.

It’s certainly not just for the rich and privileged.