A theatre of the absurd!

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It was very welcome to see a centre right chancellor acting like a centre left one.” You can tell there are few things to get excited about when you begin to quote…yourself!

This was something I said, and of course it was about Rishi Sunak, in my most recent article. And just when I thought that the operative word for me was acting, as in acting like, what does the chancellor do, he delivers millions to theatres!

So the operative word, in fact, was also centre, as in centre left. This chancellor is the most left wing since Gordon Brown! And just as we  think we are led by a chancer, we see it is the chancellor we must keep our eye on, out for the main chance!

My previous piece was an angry reflection on the awful decision to reinstate tenant evictions and benefit sanctions during the pandemic. But just as the callousness of this emerges from the DWP, so too now does the creative industries support of a billion and a half arrive from the chancellor. “The creative accounting of Rishi Sunak,” might well be the title of this chapter in the story of this man and his government. Creativity beats callousness, but as I said before, also, oh the confusion, of this government! I do prefer confusion, to callousness, but like creativity best of all!

Some refer to the devil in the detail, but the chancellor seems, in performing arts mode, to be saying why let the devil have all the best tunes! It is devilishly clever of him to be able to listen and act, and deliver more to the arts than ever. This man of slight build and smaller height, is turning into a magician, with sleight of hand! And he says to himself, to those who think, my tricks are the obvious ones, rabbits out of hats. For my next trick, I shall make the Palace of Westminster into a palace of varieties! Behold, Big Tent Politics! All inclusive, all singing, all dancing, Rishi the Ringmaster is in charge, Bojo we know is the Clown, Cummings, yes, still, probably, Company manager!

Throughout many years, the Tories thought they had found their Blair, in Cameron. I think they have found him in Sunak. And as Blair had a little of the ham actor in him, a touch of the Gielgud, he, often making himself cry, so moved by the sound of his own voice, the style and substance of the new leading player on the political stage, is both similar and different. Similar in style, only in his facial expression, giving us a hint above the smile that he feels the nation’s pain! Different in the substance being, no wars, no loss of civil liberties, no! The substantive difference is this chancellor combines a bit of Blair and Brown in this moment. The pleasant affable presenter of something for everyone!

But we still have the absurd situation of millions and more to venues galore, and little to … the actors. Few understand that few or no theatres employ full time permanent companies of actors anymore. The accountants, marketing staff, administrators, sound engineers, stage managers are, often and usually, on ongoing contracts. But, other than in two or three West End musicals that last forever, rarely, the performers.

So mass marketing of much money, and we are where we started for many. Actors with no work likely for ages, on screen or stages, and signing on at job centres, DWP newly again empowered, with benefit sanctions. And for my next trick…!

* Lorenzo Cherin is an actor, writer, and regular contributor to politics as a member of the Liberal Democrats. He is based in Nottingham.

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  • Andy Hinton 9th Jul '20 - 12:27pm

    “The accountants, marketing staff, administrators, sound engineers, stage managers are, often and usually, on ongoing contracts.”

    Er… not sure what makes you say that, stage managers and sound engineers (of which I am one) have no more security of employment than actors do. If the other folk you list work for a big producer’s company then as you say they might have more security, but anyone who is primarily associated with the show is in very much the same boat as actors. You only have to look at the amazing variety of people contributing to the #freelancersmaketheatrework campaign to see that much of the industry is precarious.

    In any case, much as I’m glad the government has announced this package for the arts, I’ll reserve my hero worship of Sunak for when he gets round to realising that the 3 million people represented by #ExcludedUK are not chancers but real people whose employment doesn’t neatly fit into the treasury’s boxes for a variety of reasons, and they deserve the same level of unconditional support as everyone on furlough or SEISS has received.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 9th Jul '20 - 12:53pm

    Thanks, for that point Andy. What I refer to is true in many situations, you correctly show one, less so. I do not imply that the same level of security is felt by a sound engineer , as say, a professional in marketing or administrator, might, nor would I. But the fact is, in many venues throughout the country, technical staff do have secure employed wages. Many production staff are, as are you, freelancers, but many venues have house staff, at least in some jobs , especially music venues, as alluded to. My point is not to decry that, but to point out irony. There are no theatres or venues that employ performers in that way. Let me give you an example. The National Theatre employs hundreds of people. When a given season ceases, so does the work of the actors, all. But there is a technical , a few in fact, department, marketing department, costume department, administration department, where key personnel continue in paid employment. I am an advocate for the old, company set up, venues with public funding ought to employ companies of actors, working thus. I do not want to suggest that freelancers in the areas like you though , have it other than difficult. I am not suggesting anyone should give hero worship, either, to government, merely, satirising and supporting the recent funding, which, you are right to also , as I say, wait to see the detail, of!

  • Gordon Brown wasn’t a ‘left wing’ Chancellor. He was extremely cautious and stuck to Tory financial guidelines i n the early years of his Chancellorship. But over his whole term, and putting aside all the usual party political stuff he can be very proud of one part of his record : reducing child poverty.

    When Labour entered government in 1997, one in three children were living in families whose incomes were less than 60 per cent of the national median, meaning they were officially in poverty and brought up in families unable to pay for even basic necessities. Mr Brown sought to address these inequalities by introducing a system of tax credits which, by 2010, transferred £28 billion a year to low- and middle-income families.

    Research by the Resolution Foundation showed that tax credits reduced the number of children living in poverty in the UK from three million in 1998 to 1.6 million in 2010, as the Labour government met their goal to reduce the number of children in poverty by a quarter by 2004 and came close to the 2010 goal for halving it.

    From 2012/13 to 2014/15 – the years in which the Con-Lib Dem Coalition’s austerity really started to bite – child poverty rose by 400,00.

  • I think that we will not be able to judge until the autumn, when the Chancellor makes his statement.
    Unless he is prepared to radically change his party’s approach we are in for a very difficult time. The Prime Minister is already getting rumblings from back benchers – in the end he has to find a way of placating his party.
    Our party needs to be ready, as it is clear that very many people are worried. They will be looking for a lead.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 9th Jul '20 - 3:15pm

    David’ agreed, do not want to say it, as old news, but the comparing of Sunak, was meant to be left wing, as opposed to more right wing chancellors since Brown. A glance at him, Sunak, he is far to the left of Osborne with regard to austerity.

    You do not need to convince me on Brown, I was a member of the moderate wing of the Labour party in the nineties!

    One thing both Brown and Sunak have in common, is a flair that is a flourish, not always correctly, but obviously doing something to help. Brown had his child trust funds at birth, Sunak, meal vouchers!

    As for tax credits, I have been on both sides, advising about and receiving, you forget, as a result of a car accident that leaves my wife with permanent issues,loss of work, house, I do not need reminding of relative poverty!

  • Andy Hinton 9th Jul '20 - 6:17pm

    Lorenzo: The National Theatre, like other producing houses, is very much the exception, not the rule. I know several members of their sound department, so I’m well aware what staff they have on permanent payroll, but it’s worth pointing out that even there, a lot of the people actually on show call are freelancers, albeit freelancers who work for the National often. Even more so other producing houses like the Old Vic, Royal Court, etc. Meanwhile the commercial West End doesn’t work that way, with only a limited electrics department on staff in most WE theatres, compared to Stage Management, Sound, Wardrobe, Wigs, and Automation departments, all of whom will be attached to the show, not the theatre. Around the rest of the country, many receiving theatres on the touring circuit again have limited technical staff, largely to liaise with incoming companies and organise casual staff to help with get-ins and get outs, but again, any touring show of an appreciable size will bring with it a crew 2-4 times the size of any in-house staff, this time including the LX department. I’m sorry, but the people you are talking about really are the exception, not the rule.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Jul '20 - 12:49pm

    Andy, you are explaining well, but must surely see in doing that you are preaching to the converted. You single one reference, I admit within the group of areas alluded to, they are different. Why you do not concentrate on the marketing and administration staff, is probably because you do not work in those areas, thus, rightly, you having valuable knowledge and direct experience informs what you say.

    But, you admit, that producing houses are as I say. You do so and do not refer once to the fact that no, thats none, of these employs one , and I mean one single performer on a permanent contract!

    I see you and yours as my brothers and sisters. But thats not the same , no pun intended, as, saying that means we are all the same.

    Everything you say is so. It is what you do not say, that is important also. People go to see plays, shows, that feature actors,performers, venues,many that are producing venues, have inumerable staff, in many fields on permanent ongoing contracts. None of them at any level are performers.

    That does not mean that I put your colleagues in the category of marketing and administration. I just know actors and performers, unless in a show in the west end for decades, have no work beyond weeks, ever!

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