Give culture some credit during cuts

WE WERE lucky enough to see the fantastic Northern Broadsides production of Hamlet at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on Saturday.

Conrad Nelson’s staging of Shakespeare’s Greatest Hit (about which I heard someone shuffling to the interval bar say “I hadn’t realised how many phrases and sayings we use today come from Hamlet”) was nothing less than magical. The Round was ideal, the minimal scenery so perfect, the effects as scary as it gets. I wouldn’t dare to single out any one actor for praise above the others (mostly because one of my oldest and dearest friends is a Broadsides regular but I’d just as likely pick him because he’s brilliant as well; sorry folks, you’ll have to keep guessing) but the performances were outstanding, to a man and woman.

You’ll know the Stephen Joseph Theatre, like many theatres around the country, has had its funding slashed. These belt-tightening measures seldom affect the well-off who inflict them – they’re not intended to.

But they filter nonetheless down to the unimaginative spods in Northallerton, who see Arts and Culture as a smarty pants luxury and therefore able to find its own way. So I’m glad Chris Monks and his team at the Stephen Joseph seem determined to make this brilliant theatre work come what may (I’m a bit sorry he’s chosen to re-run his version of Carmen this summer, not too many years after it came along in the guest slot, but maybe that’s how you keep the theatre’s head above water, just like the repeats on the BBC). Still, there are plenty of other treats in store at a remarkably reasonable price compared with London.

At County Hall, they think people are happy with fish and chips and a paddle in the sea and that that’s enough to keep ‘em coming to North Yorkshire.

So if I might be bold enough to ask, the minute your bosses in Westminster start to turn the corner, which I earnestly hope they will (though I doubt making poor people poorer is the best way to do it) please make sure our theatres and arts spaces get the credit they deserve for adding an almost inestimable value to our life. It’s possibly a bit soon to wonder if Northern Broadsides’ artistic Barrie Rutter might yet get a knighthood – not just for being a Yorkshireman, but it helps – but the fact that his company packs out the SJT every time it comes shows we have a theatre that knows what it’s doing, even if Sir Alan is no longer at the helm.

Mat Watkinson

Stepney Road, Scarborough