If theatre was outlawed would you surrender?

Convener(s): Jonathan Grieve

Participants: Dan Danson, Gary Campbell, Jeanny Spark, Ellie Dubois, Rebecca manson Jones, Annie Rigby, Paul Charlton, William ?, Julia Tanarky, Matilda Leyser, Tom Atkins, Li E Chen

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

I made this proposition to see if I could draw out any potential radicals among us, and to find out for myself a purpose for continuing to work in this medium. I wanted to call into question peoples commitment to the artform.

The discussion lasted the whole hour and half and snaked around quite a number of issues. The people who turned up were people, I guess, who seemed willing to put themselves on the line, which I think was to be expected.

The discussion began with looking at the realities of censorship and someone brought up the example of Athol Fugard who continued his work under apartheid the question being would you risk going to prison for this art form.

Someone asked why not surrender?

Someone else gave the example of the poet John Clare who struggled to find an audience due to the public appetite for the novel.

Someone asked, well what is the value of theatre?

And then the conversation moved into talking about the effect of laws and legislation, this was largely due to the contribution of a fellow who is running their own venue in spite of the red tape involved in setting it up leally. This did however bring up the impact of the Criminal Justice Bill in the 1990’s which effectively banned all spontaneous and unofficial gatherings.

I think this is an important issue because such legislation has largely killed the spontaneous, live and street culture of the preceding decades.

This led on to a discussion of health and safety, and a younger member of the group was questioning the need to be aware of current health and safety law, the  A rather tedious issue but an important one nonetheless.

One member of the group described how she witnessed a theatre director in South Africa tricking a group of visiting dignatories into seeing a show that they were not supposed to watch. This was put forward as an example of the kind of rebellion that one no longer witnesses in Britain.

The group also seemed to agree that a bit of repression is perhaps good for artists, the example of Roumania was given where after the fall of the dictator C. theatre was no longer deemed important because it was all around them.

The issue of recession came up and something that would cause severe restrictions however far from being afraid of the current recession one member of the group was looking forward to it. As artists, who are used to ducking and diving, a full scale recession should prove a good test for our survival skills.

Another version of the origianl question was proposed, if there was no funding would we still do it? An easier question to answer no doubt, however there was no answer from the group.

There was a discussion of the impact on sponsorship and the conclusion (outside of the discussion that there is no clean money).


The most obvious answer to this question was really we may not survive but certainly theatre as live performance would. That the art form would by necessity go underground. The need for entertainment or something similar is as natural as eating and drinking, and that children naturally act and play and you can’t stop people telling stories etc. This sounds banal and obvious but however it links us directly to the purpose and function of creating theatre now, or at any time in human history. 

However as the person who asked the question I was most impressed by a statement saying that one the fundamental functions of theatre is an examination of Power and of the people who have appropriated that power, of anything that claims power over people. For me personally theatre functions as an act of rebellion and that we do things in spite of circumstances. I think we ignore this function at our peril.