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Why theatre is more important than ever in Brexit Britain

David Suchet in The Price. Photo: Nobby Clark - Credit: ©Nobby Clark Photographer

TIM WALKER says theatre is vital for national morale – and lists his favourite musicals, dramas, and everything stage-centric from the last twelve months.

This is the time of year when theatre critics get to say what productions they most enjoyed over the preceding 12 months, and, if you bear with me, I’ll come to that.

First, though, a few thoughts. Everyone in the theatre world is now anxious about Brexit and with good reason. Arts Council England estimates that, over the past decade, arts organisations received £345 million from the European Union and that loss will be keenly felt. It will become problematical, too, for actors from overseas to perform here, as it will be for our actors to perform elsewhere.

Even though more folk attend theatres each year than they do football stadia, the Tories have always seen funding ‘luvvies’ as a luxury. No matter that many theatre professionals are more or less living on the breadline as it is. No matter, too, that theatre is one of the last community activities still available to us.

Maybe Boris Johnson and his fellow Brextremists love plays, but I’ve never seen any of them watching one. Subsidised venues, such as the National, are routinely demonised by right-wing ideologues as temples of sedition, and that ignorant prejudice will no doubt be seen by at least some in government as reason enough to slash subsidies.

At such a challenging time when so many of us feel alienated, theatre is more important than ever. When I parted company with the Sunday Telegraph after 12 years, I found reviewing theatre for them was the only part of my job I missed. One reason may be it necessitated me getting out of an increasingly unhappy office. It was also, I see now, intrinsically good for morale. It gave me a shot in the arm no drug ever could.

No matter what job we do, none of 
us is immune to depression, but I would say theatre has been invaluable in building up my own resistance to it. Among fellow journalists who have focused on Brexit over the past few years – on both sides of the argument – depression has become an epidemic. My colleague Alastair Campbell has had the courage to write and broadcast about his own struggles. So, too, my wonderful fellow critic Mark Shenton. I know of a great many others in a wide range of jobs who suffer in silence and Brexit has made it worse for us all. Theatre, then, is not a luxury, but a necessity. It nourishes our humanity and we need it now more than ever.

As to the show that meant the most to me over the past year, it was without question Robert Icke’s The Doctor at the Almeida. Black actors played white characters and men played women. It questioned every prejudice I ever had and it made me think. I asked in my review if it was simply too intellectual and challenging a piece of work to make a West End transfer, but, happily, I was proved wrong.

Best musical was undoubtedly Dominic Cooke’s revival of Follies at the National, and, as for best performance, David Suchet was simply spellbinding in The Price at Wyndham’s. In the year ahead, I hope to goodness for as much greatness.