Sunday, 10 November 2013

Nottingham Playhouse to lose 100% of its grant from Notts County Council.

It gets personal when it's so close to home.

How much fun can it be? A Labour council cutting the arts?  Can anyone imagine that it comes easy? Inherited debts of £130 million.  Ludicrous and damaging cuts imposed by central government. Did they go into local politics to have to cut vital services to their own communities?  I believe that there are councillors across the UK who are having sleepless nights, for whom every cut to an old peoples' day centre, to a youth club for disadvantaged young people, to a library, to the budget for leisure, to the budget for education is another twist to the soul.

But I'm a playwright and Nottingham Playhouse has been essential to my career so this cut is personal for me too and I wonder if it skews my judgement.  £94000. That represents four jobs. It represents a source of matched funding. It isn't the end of the world, but the impact of the jobs being cut and the lack of matched funding the grant sustains will hurt and drastically diminish the service the Playhouse offers.

£94000. A fortune as far as I'm concerned but if you spread it around how far does it go?  Not far.  But if you add it to all the other slices that are likely to be taken off budgets across the county?  What's the answer?  But every area that is under threat will rightfully claim that their cut isn't justified.  If I was a councillor I'm not sure if I'd resign or stick my fingers in my ears and sign the budget cuts because I couldn't see any other way out. Perhaps there isn't another way out. Except maybe... defiance?

The arts earn money for the community. That's a given.  Arts subsidy generates income.  Slab Square, Nottingham Contemporary, the Sky Mirror, Rock City, the Theatre Royal, the Castle, Nottingham Playhouse, the Broadway, Mansfield Library, Southwell Minster these places are part of the fabric of Nottinghamshire. They make us proud.  Even if we don't visit them all that often they define us as people who live in an important county.   Take away any one of them and our sense of ourselves will be diminished.  But the arts can do more. A theatre does more.  It speaks for the time and its people and we are living in a time when we are hurting. The theatre speaks to that pain. Addresses it. Exposes it.  Dissects the causes.  Laughs at it.  Shows us how to be strong. Shows us what we could be.

It could be a play about individual courage on the main stage. Or of a journey taken in hope in the Neville Studio.  Or a story about how we deal with the loss of loved ones and the safety of the family home in a village school hall.  Our theatre opens us to the possibilities within ourselves.

But what does that mean when I know every organisation can make it's own impassioned plea.  So the thought occurs perhaps these cuts are the moment when all of us, collectively,  say, this is enough.

We reject all the cuts to any of the services we need and value.  We say to central government find another way because we're not all in this together, the majority of the country is taking all the misery for the benefit of the few. We need to give our council the courage to defy logic and say this isn't going to happen, we will trim our budget as we think fit and necessary according to the principles of good housekeeping, but we won't be a party to destroying the quality of life and culture in our county.

It's just a thought.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Lets's sell off Royal Mail! What Good idea ...

In recent years there have been two brilliant ideas concerning the Post Office and Royal Mail.
The one was to do with branding. It went like this. We have a name that everyone knows, Royal Mail. A lot of brands would kill to have such an easily recognised name that not only tells exactly what it does but also reeks of security and heritage. So why don't we spend millions of pounds changing it to ....Consignia. A name that says nothing at all about anything at all. Now I'm the last one to point the finger at someones inability to come up with a snappy title having lost hours of sleep trying to think of titles for my plays. But, really, Consignia?
It sank without trace - if you discount the huge expense incurred paying the consultants to come up with a shit name, and the IT people for changing all the systems, and the printers and the people who make the signage. In fact looked on as a job creation scheme it might just have been value for money.
Now comes the second brilliant idea. 
Remember the scramble for British Telecom shares, British Rail shares, energy shares etc etc that helped to define the greed of the Thatcher period and left us with the kind of chaos exemplified our shambolic rail system?  Well, that was good fun wasn't it?
Let's sell off the Post Office. Let's put jobs and services at risk. Let's allow those with lots of money make even more. Let's get rid of another national industry so we can show a brief upturn in the deficit when we factor in the profit we make for the sale and sod the almost certain decline of the nationwide post service.
Has anyone got the energy to rehearse again all the reasons why this is such a bad idea?  When the bastards are going to do it anyway?
If Ed Miliband wants a sure fire vote winner he should come out now and promise that a Labour government would immediately re - nationalise the Post Office without any compensation to those are now queuing in disbelief that they have been given another opportunity to stick their greedy noses in the trough.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Well done George Osborne.

George Osborne.
Twitter of the £10 take away burger.
Millionaire Chancellor in a cabinet of millionaires.
Author of the current spending review.
Responsible for the following -
Libraries closing.
Swimming baths and leisure centres mothballed.
Benefits cut.
MS and cancer patients suffering the humiliation of having to be 'tested' before their disability allowances can be ratified.
The unemployed made to wait a week before they can make a claim.
Council house tenants charged extra for having a spare bedroom.
Financing free schools.
Food banks.
Pushing over 600000 children into poverty.
Museums and arts centres closing.
Cuts in real terms to the NHS.
Cuts in real terms to Education.
The increase in pawnbrokers on the high street.
Cuts to Local Government and therefore to essential local government services.
The future refurbishment of the site of the Battle of Waterloo.  If refurbishing is what you do to the site of a Belgium battle.
The huge growth of payday loan industry - legal and illegal.
The list goes on.
And on.

And who is responsible for the mess that is forcing the Chancellor to take these measures?
The answer is simple.
The poor.
The disabled.
The sick.
The mentally ill.
The terminally ill.
The middle income family.
These are the selfish bastards who have been squandering our country's wealth.

But George Osborne is a fair man and he knows that if we are to solve our economic problems we have to do it together - indeed we are all in it together - and that is why instead targeting the feckless irresponsible spendthrifts who from their hospitals beds, nurseries, schools, wheelchairs, and decaying council estates have brought this country to its knees he has made sure that those with the most are asked to contribute the most.
The top quintile will face cuts of 4% and the bottom quintile will only have to deal with cuts to their income of 3.9%. cf:

So that's alright, isn't it?
Nobody's going to suggest that the impact a 4% cut for those at the top of the pile is peanuts compared to what a 3.9% cut will be like for in the bottom 5% income bracket.

George Osborne is a man it would be easy to mock. I've seen the articles and heard the jokes about how he changed his name by deed pole from Gideon to George at thirteen. He only did what many of us would have liked to have done. If someone had given me the chance to change my name from Nicholas to Peter, or John, or David, or just about anything that didn't stick out every time the register was called I'd have taken it in a second.

I don't want to call George Osborne to account for what he did when he was a thirteen year old boy.
I want to know how he sleeps at night after what he's done at the age of forty two.
Is he proud?
Does he feel it's a job well done?
I still believe that no matter how many times individuals fail to live up to the standards we expect, the majority of politicians go into politics because they want to make a difference. 
You've certainly done that George.


Monday, 25 February 2013

Please Mr Vaizey it's not just about the money.

Dear Mr Vaizey,

Last Friday I went to the New Vic to see The Thrill of Love Amanda Whittington's excellent new play about Ruth Ellis.  Last Monday I was in London for the gfa meeting organised by the Antelopes and the Arts Council.

In the New Vic programme Amanda writes 'Three years ago Theresa Heskins (New Vic artistic director) and I discussed the idea of a Ruth Ellis play...'  It takes a long time for plays to get from the idea to the stage, on the way they need help, and success is not guaranteed. With theatres unable to commit funding to the uncertainty of new work increasingly they are being forced to opt for popularism and spectacle. Soon that will be all that is left because the current batch of new plays that have been gestating for the last few years will dry up soon.

Last Monday forty playwrights met with the Arts Council to discuss how to access funding.  We didn't go there cap in hand but because ACE, who were involved in setting up the meeting, aware of the difficulties of writers getting funding directly from theatres are anxious to do what little they can to make sure that there is a future for new work by letting us know how we could apply for alternative funding.

Anecdotes don't carry much weight, I know, but sometimes it seems to be all the individual has to offer. I've had two projects cancelled because of the lack of funds. One was the retouring of a successful play that had played to 92% when the company first produced it because they didn't get the strategic touring money they expected and without it couldn't afford to take the risk, the other, a musical, had been delivered, paid for, and had four weeks of development funded by ACE only for the company to lose its status and funding.

We make work and we provide work. We earn money true, for ourselves, the theatres who put on our work, those who work on our productions, from actors to cleaning staff, and for the exchequer.  We don't want handouts.  We don't consider ourselves to be a special case.

Our job is writing plays, and together we make a major contribution to the economy, and, each of us, is proud of our own small contribution to our shared culture. Take away our ability to do that by depriving the theatres of the ability to work with us and we'll all be the poorer.

Best Wishes,
Nick Wood

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Ebacc Shelved!

I spotted last night on twitter that Mr Gove has shelved the Ebacc. I suppose it had to happen after the cross party opposition and the gradual drip of concessions but somehow I never believed it would. That's why when I woke up this morning I had to go on line and see. There it was on the BBC website so it must be true.
It was defeated with the help of high profile names and institutions, but not because of them. I believe it was defeated because Mr Gove's arrogance, and a well co-ordinated campaign, made people realise for the first time how much they would have missed if the arts had been denied them when they were at school and they didn't want that for their kids.  Neither did they want to live in a society that such a restrictive curriculum would have fostered. 
But it would be naive if we thought that the battle was won.  Mr Gove wants it in the next manifesto.  We don't yet know exactly how he intends to reshuffle what he sees as the core GCSEs. We must be vigilant because he'll have something else nasty lurking round the corner.
Whatever your political persuasion this has been a great result. I'd say it was a victory for common sense.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Django, Les Mis, and Lincoln.

So I've seen the big three, spent seven hours and twelve minutes in the dark, and what have I learned? 

Django.  A deeply moral film I thought.  Wonderful performances. Wonderful to look at. Artfully structured, sometimes tight, sometimes sprawling, sometimes almost clumsy, but at no point can you take your eyes away.  Except I could.  Couldn't watch some of the scenes. Wondered behind closed eyes if the sound effects wouldn't have had as great an impact.  Loved the humour.  Loved the way our need for humanity and love is expressed by an amoral bounty hunter. Loved the disjoint of material and form.  Loved the way I was unsettled throughout, when you think it's this, the rug is pulled away and it's suddenly that.  Loved the fact that it a film as much about the present as the past.  Loved the pastiche, the way genres were turned on their heads, but the scene with the Klan, although hysterical, felt more like a Mel Brooks out take than an homage. In the right hands, you can say more with humour and flash than you can with reverence as long as what seems excess is based on intelligence, passion, and a desire to tell the truth.  I'll be returning to the South later this year, driving past the white mansions on River Road, graphically aware whose backs they were built on.

Les Mis.  I never saw it on stage. I never wanted to. I went because I wondered if I'd been unfair, snobbish in my assertion that nothing on earth would ever drag me to The Glums.
And I still don't get it.  I don't get how Nunn, Caird, MacKintosh et al saw that this could be a success. The music is monotonous, the lyrics banal, the story repetitive.  I can see, as someone who was bowled over by the RSC Nicholas Nickleby that by bringing that style of early eighties upfront RSC energy to a piece like Les Mis some of the audience would be seeing something they'd never seen before in a theatre. But most of all I didn't care, about any of them, I just wanted them to stop so I could go home.  And, I know, it all comes down to taste. Some will like, some will loath. 
But there was one exception, a mini master class, a performance that jumped off the screen, Colm Wilkinson. The original Jean Valjean nipped in to play, God, I think, and showed how it should be done. In his few minutes there was more intensity and honesty than in the rest of snot - ridden, tear - sodden two hours and thirty seven long minutes.
I saw Colm Wilkinson when in another life I took a party of kids from Doncaster to see Jesus Christ Superstar. A Saturday matinee, well into the run, he was playing Judas. The opening minutes were very lack lustre, from where I sat in the stalls I could see the cast on the ramps either side of the stage were more interested in chatting than the audience. And then Mr Wilkinson took charge. His performance was incredible. A huge talent, totally in control, he shook the place up, and if I could lip read I'd be able to tell you what he said when he whirled around and laid into those cast members who were happy to cruise though a lazy Saturday afternoon.  If you're going to do something, do it, and don't give short change. A great man.

Lincoln.  I went to see it because I'd read Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin - a wonderful book, and because I hoped that it was going to be more than God Bless America.  And it was. Like Django it is concerned with the present as well as the past. Excellent performances all round.  Day-Lewis is amazing. It's a performance that is restrained, it doesn't seek to dominate, this Lincoln can exasperate with his endless tales but he can listen too.  Like Django It doesn't let us off easy. This story isn't about the past. The battle isn't over. Complacency and prejudice are still as strong. The same mistakes are being made.  Lincoln fought the battle with his weapons in his time, but his victories were only a step on the way.  The final moments of the film flash back to Lincoln giving his second inaugural speech which reaches out as a rallying call for us to continue to be vigilant.
And the Oscar goes to .....?

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Fear and Risk @ the index on censorship conference.

At the start of the conference Jude Kelly posed the question that at a time when arts organisations are vulnerable to funding cuts can they afford to court controversy by promoting challenging work? Of course the answer has to be yes, otherwise, as another speaker, said the alternative is to follow the increasingly familiar path towards popularism and spectacle.
By the end of the conference I felt challenged, encouraged, and at the same time fearful as to whether brave words and intentions could survive not only the attacks on individual works of art that are becoming more common, but the governments insidious chipping away at our culture as evidenced by the Ebacc proposals and the cutting of funding to humanities in the university sector.
Personally I find the rise of the minority pressure group and its ability to use the threat of protest as a means to prevent the discussion of issues it wishes to avoid very disturbing indeed.
It's okay to demand the right to believe what you wish to believe in, but why does that right deny my right to oppose or challenge those beliefs? And why is that point of view not being challenged?  Mona Siddiqui, in a platform session,asked 'should religious faith be protected at all?' and suggested that 'we don't have the conversation because we are afraid of confrontation.' 
The world has changed since the Satanic Verses, as Anthony Julius pointed out. Now any group that senses a challenge, real or imaginary, can play the religious intolerance card with almost instant success. 
It's not right, is it?  If I can respect your right to believe the moon is made of cheese, why can't you respect my right to disagree?  If your faith is firm enough then how can it be weakened by my questions, or damaged by my doubt?
Dr Siddiqui is right - we are afraid of the problems that opening a dialogue might bring. Me?  I'm more afraid that in avoiding that dialogue our positions will become even more dangerously entrenched and we'll not learn that our shared humanity is what defines us, not what we choose to believe in.