The Theatre Royal Plymouth has been criticised for proposing to make its entire creative team redundant in a move that has been called “unfathomable” and one which could jeopardise the future of ambitious theatre in south-west England.
The theatre, which has a large commercial venue (the Lyric) and a smaller space for experimental work and new writing (the Drum), announced more than 100 jobs were at risk of redundancy, including its four-person artistic team.
The artistic department commissions new writing, manages co-productions, curates the Drum and is involved in artistic decisions at the theatre.
Documents seen by the Guardian confirmed the positions were put at risk of redundancy because of “much reduced creative activity” and the need for a “wholescale restructure” of TRP’s artistic teams.
The proposal would essentially turn the theatre turn into a commercial receiving house which no longer produces its own work but instead relies on touring companies.
James Graham, the playwright and screenwriter who credits the TRP with helping to nurture him at the start of his career, called the proposed move “unfathomable”. “I sympathise with the massive pressures theatres are under while we all wait for how and when the government’s package will be distributed,” Graham said, referring to the £1.57bn emergency support fund for the arts.
“But it’s unfathomable to me that any dynamic arts organisation thinks it can programme and deliver work without artists. It’s the equivalent of a restaurant sacking its kitchen staff because they’ve found a microwave in the basement.”
The TRP said no redundancies have been made yet, but it did not confirm the creative team would be kept. “The redundancy consultation that is currently under way is looking at a number of posts across the teams in the theatre … because we are in the middle of the process we cannot confirm anything,” a spokesperson for TRP said.
Graham said the move would mean the end of an era at the theatre, which is a hybrid that caters for both populist and risk-taking productions. He added that you could see a West End musical at the Lyric but also be introduced to more experimental work at the Drum, such as the storytelling of Philip Ridley or the celebrated Belgian company Ontroerend Goed.
“Its creative team scoured the fringes to find and nurture new voices. It’s how they found me, as a emerging playwright getting started, and offered me a space to challenge myself and grow,” he said.
This week the government’s response to the impact the Covid-19 crisis has had on culture was heavily criticised by the digital, culture, media and sport select committee.
The MPs said the government’s responses – including a £1.57bn support package and a five-step roadmap for reopening – could have saved jobs and cultural institutions from closure if they had been released sooner.
The report criticised the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, describing his roadmap for when theatres will reopen as “vague and slow-coming”. According to the MPs, the government’s support measures will not be enough to stop mass redundancies, such as those seen at the National Theatre and the Royal Opera House.
“The failure of the government to act quickly has jeopardised the future of institutions that are part of our national life and the livelihoods of those who work for them,” said the committee’s chair, Conservative MP Julian Knight.