FEBRUARY 29 2024


Hope Theatre to close in current form following leadership dispute


Pub venue the Hope Theatre in north London will close in its current form after 11 years, following a dispute over who should be its next artistic leader.

The Stage understands that the board of the Hope Theatre resigned en masse after a disagreement with the pub’s landlord over who should be running it, following the departure of Phil Bartlett, who left in November last year. While the board had been in the process of recruiting a new artistic director, The Stage understands the pub’s landlord had been pushing for someone connected to the pub to run the upstairs space.

In a statement to The Stage, the board said: “After lengthy discussions with the

pub, it became clear there was no chance of an agreement on the future direction of the theatre. This made the position of the board as an independent charity untenable.”

A further statement to The Stage from the board clarified: “We had chosen a new, qualified artistic director – but we were unable to agree on this artistic leadership with the landlord. He had a preferred candidate in whom the board did not have confidence. The landlord has never been involved in the running of the theatre before and doesn’t have a background in theatre generally.

“We are a new board, as of about nine months ago; we came on to help the Hope rebuild post-Covid but we felt we owed it to the incoming companies, who have invested considerable time and effort, not

to let the charity be overruled. We made the very difficult, but we feel principled, decision to stand down to safeguard the legacy of the Hope and to demonstrate the integrity of our decision-making process.”

It means that the board will dissolve Solar Plexus Productions, which currently manages the theatre, and the Hope Theatre in its current form will cease to exist.

Under Solar Plexus Productions, the Hope Theatre produced shows including Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story and Lovesong of the Electric Bear.

Patron Paul Clayton said: “The Hope theatre has always put artists and their welfare first. If the theatre is run by someone they haven’t appointed, this is not possible. This also means that my position as patron is impossible and I will step down forthwith.”

The Hope Theatre was founded in 2013 by Adam Spreadbury-Maher as an extension of the old King’s Head Theatre on Upper Street. It was the first Off-West End venue to open with a house agreement with Equity.

Matthew Parker took over running it in 2014 and held the post for five years. He was succeeded by Kennedy Bloomer and then Bartlett, who will be the Hope Theatre’s final artistic director of this incarnation.

The current deputy artistic director, Ella Dale, will oversee a transition period to ensure work with the companies who have been programmed at the Hope between now and June continues.

The space in which the Hope Theatre operates will remain owned by the pub. The pub is part of the Greene King chain, which had not responded to a request for comment.

Birmingham council to slash 100% arts spend in ‘largest local budget cut’


Birmingham City Council will make cuts to all funding for culture pro jects and local-arts development, with Birmingham Rep and Birmingham Royal Ballet facing a 100% reduction to their support in the next financial year.

Europe’s largest local authority has taken drastic measures to tackle a £300 million budget shortfall over the next two years, including ending its £350,000 funding to Birmingham International Dance Festival.

Grants to organisations in receipt of regular funding will be hit with 50% cuts this year and 100% from the 2025/26 financial year, with those impacted including Birmingham Opera Company, dance development organisation FABRIC and B:Music – home to the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and operator of Symphony Hall.

B:Music has been supported by a grant from Birmingham City Council of £1,388,000 annually, while Birmingham Royal Ballet has received about £157,850 a year, and Birmingham Rep received core funding of £158,000 in 2022.

Reacting on Twitter/X, playwright Joe White branded the cuts “disastrous” and said: “Fourteen years of austerity and here is where we are. Birmingham is about to suffer the largest cuts in local authority history, and of course the arts are the first thing to go.”

Conductor Andrew Griffiths termed it “horrendous news”, adding: “Something like this seems to happen almost daily right now. These really are bleak times in the arts.”

Director and choreographer at Birmingham Rep Vivi Bayliss commented: “A career in

the arts really does feel hopeless right now. Not booking enough gigs to be sustainable. Arts Council England success at an all-time low so [one] can’t make [one’s] own work. I don’t know what else to try.”

Council tax in the local authority will rise by 21% over the coming two financial years, while council funding for all community centres will end, and the Children’s, Young People and Families budgets face a £51.5 million cut.

The council is also preparing to cut up to 600 jobs and institute fortnightly bin collections, in what think tank the Audit Reform Lab declared the biggest budget cut ever made by a council.

Leader of Birmingham City Council, the Labour Party’s John Cotton, said he wanted to “apologise unreservedly” for the significant spending reductions, admitting: “We have no alternative than to face these challenges head on.”

He drew attention to the “national crisis in local government finance”, which can be traced to central government cuts to local authority funding following austerity. The Local Government Association claims councils have faced a 27% real-terms cut in core spending power since 2010.

Late last month, communities secretary Michael Gove announced England’s local authorities would receive a £600 million funding boost from the government following warnings of further bankruptcies.

It comes as Somerset Council approved £35 million of funding cuts to services including arts and culture provision, as it faces a £100 million shortfall.

Sean Foley: 100% cut to the Rep creates a difficult outlook


Birmingham Rep artistic director Sean Foley has warned that the recent 100% cut to local authority funding and standstill Arts Council England money means the theatre will be operating with about 30% less public funding than in previous years.

He said this left the venue facing a “very difficult” outlook.

The Birmingham Rep will lose £158,000 grant from the local authority as part of a recently announced budget.

Foley said it would be difficult, but that it was not “mission critical”. He said that a 20% hike in council tax could have a troubling impact on residents’ access to the arts.

Foley, who has lead the theatre since 2019, said of the tax rise: “That is going to mean far less money around for people to enjoy culture. In a way, that is a bigger event in Birmingham.”

The arts leader told The Stage the theatre had been “preparing budgetary-wise” for cuts to its Birmingham City Council grant after the authority was declared effectively bankrupt in the autumn, but said the announcement nevertheless felt like “the endgame of something that has actually been going on for a very, very long time” – what he defined as chronic underfunding following central government’s austerity measures.

Foley said: “Fifteen years ago, the Rep got £1.6 million per year in public investment from the city council. In 2025 it will be none. It had been going down steadily – in fact, our investment last year that we got from the council was £158,000. Arts Council money has stayed exactly the same, with inflation eating into that.”

He admitted that while the grant loss was not fatal, “the mood around constantly having to suffer these kinds of cuts is very difficult” – and vowed not to change the Rep’s overall

strategy to remain a “major producing house”, despite the current circumstances.

Foley said the Rep expected its audiences to grow by 25% this year, and said: “That is pretty incredible and it tells me our artistic direction is working and it is working for the people of Birmingham, to support them coming out for the shows. I do not think it will change that strategy. But inevitably we are going to have less money.”

The director, writer and actor, who enjoyed early success in the comedy double act The Right Size, also weighed in on recent debates surrounding the demise of the artistic director model – describing a shift away from the traditional leadership structure as a sign of the times.

He said: “It is the old journalistic maxim, ‘follow the money’. What is happening more and more is organisations saying, ‘let’s get a chief executive in, from the business side, to run the theatre and have a sort of creative director to shore up the artistic content.’ That is simply a response to money [...]

“Fifteen years ago, if you were going to put on eight shows, you could have four bankers and four that theatres take a chance on. The financial model could sustain that. Now you’re in a situation where all eight shows need to be bankers; you cannot afford a misstep.”

His comments follow Birmingham City Council’s decision to make cuts to all funding for culture projects and local-arts development.

Despite the shockwaves inflicted by Birmingham’s council cuts, Foley said he felt keen to spotlight the Rep’s undeterred ambition – referencing its new musical, Bhangra Nation, about competitive traditional Indian folk dancing, and the most diverse main house programme in the theatre’s history.

He concluded: “The show must go on and that is what we are going to do. Buy a ticket. That is the best way to help any theatre.”