Lloyd Evans Lloyd Evans

The National Theatre could – and should – survive without state funding

Two glorious playhouses grace the south bank of the Thames. Shakespeare’s Globe and the National Theatre stage the finest shows available anywhere in the world. Both are kept in business by the play-going public who last year helped the Globe to turn over £21 million, with a surplus of £3.7 million. Audiences also flocked in record numbers to the NT and it notched up nearly 1.5 million paid attendances, with its three houses playing to over 90 per cent capacity. But there’s a massive difference between the two. The Globe is funded by customers who spend cash freely in an open market. The NT gets a bung of £17.6 million from the Arts Council, which is extracted from you and me, through the Inland Revenue, on pain of prosecution.

The latest spending round may have trimmed 3.6 per cent from the NT’s annual award but the pitch to its key supporters, the tax-paying public, remains the same. ‘Bail out the luvvies or we’ll put you behind bars.’ So we’re  entitled to ask if there might be a simpler, friendlier way to keep the NT  in business. Could it be encouraged to consider the merits of Globe-alisation? A glance through its funding model offers a few clues.

Leaving aside the £17 million tax heist (which forms 20 per cent of its income), the NT has an impressive catalogue of sponsors. Many are anonymous individuals. Travelex, a currency dealership, gives it £2.7 million a year in return for publicity. The NT also has a patron, Her Majesty, although there’s no hint of this connection on the NT website or on any of its branding. The Financial Statement, to be fair, comes clean about the embarrassment with the words ‘Royal National Theatre’ lodged at the base of the page.

This suggests an obvious way forward.

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