Why this is the worst time for touring theatre in generations

Indeed, a more highbrow offering with a star name attached can reap rewards (as the touring production of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets with Ralph Fiennes has proved).

Jonathan Church, producer of Two Cigarettes in the Dark, believes that such well-known names should do their bit on the road. “If ever there was a moment when we need the acting community to support touring, it’s now,” he asserts. “Heroically, some actors, like David Suchet or Penelope Keith, are prepared to do an old-fashioned regional tour – they believe that’s part of their job. But there are some actors who, if you try to persuade them to do more than two regional venues as well as London, it’s like pulling teeth.”

We will certainly need the Ian McKellens of tomorrow, valiantly sallying forth to far-flung parts to help inspire our attendance. McKellen raised the flag for the value of touring with his 80th-birthday show in 2019, visiting 80 venues of every shape and size. At the same time, the onus should be on us as well to get out there and cheer our touring players on.

Alastair Whatley has just launched Into the Night, a digital drama about the Penlee lifeboat disaster of 1981, to help boost the fortunes of his company, Original Theatre (originaltheatre.com), which takes quality drama out on the road, most recently A Splinter of Ice, about Graham Greene and Kim Philby. Passionate and committed though he is, he’s wondering how much longer he can keep going: “I’m at the point where I’m thinking ‘Frankly, is it worth it?’”

Practitioners like Whatley are caught between funding authorities, star names and us, reliant on each to play their role. If audiences wait indefinitely for the all-clear, the touring world as it was will become a memory. Now, we the audience must give touring theatre’s stalwarts a helping hand.

Original Theatre’s Into the Night is on demand to Feb 20: originaltheatreonline.com. Bring It On is at the Southbank Centre to Sat; www.southbankcentre.co.uk; more information; uktheatre.org/; www.ruraltouring.org; www.theatrestrust.org.uk 

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