Theatre preview: Theatre Uncut @ Traverse, Edinburgh

Published by METRO

I’d like to cast your mind back, if I may, to earlier this year. I’m sure you’ll remember what happened in the House of Commons on March 23. No?

OK, I’ll tell you. That afternoon, Chancellor George Osborne announced in his Budget a package of public spending cuts, which he claimed needed to be implemented as soon as possible in order to reduce the nation’s deficit. I can see you rolling your eyes. That’s no longer news. After all, that was before the tabloid phone-hacking scandal, the assassination of Osama Bin Laden and the Royal wedding.

Well, it was probably also a day to forget if you were in the arts industry, as it was confirmed that funding for the Arts Council – which distributes money to hundreds of UK theatre groups, galleries and arts venues nationwide – would fall by almost one third.

In anticipation of such measures, an outraged alliance of theatrical talent presented their response in inspiring fashion the week before, when over 700 people simultaneously staged an event called Theatre Uncut.

Members of youth groups, university drama clubs, schools and amateur dramatics societies showed their solidarity by performing a piece with a very clear message.

‘These cuts are the turning point of a generation, undermining the welfare state, state higher education and the arts,’ read a statement by Theatre Uncut organisers. ‘We hope to create a theatrical uprising and play our part in the anti-cuts movement that is already underway.’

Their effort, which is coming to the Fringe in a one-off performance, breaks down into eight acts, with each describing a potential consequence of reductions in public spending. One focuses on a mental health worker who’s distraught at the closure of his centre. Another explains how a frightening proportion of the Greek bailout went directly to the banks.

In one sense, the subject matter is almost irrelevant. What’s intriguing about this piece is that it riles against some misnomers about the theatre. If you believe that going to watch a play is just the passive hobby of an ever-dwindling number of the middle and upper classes, then go and see Theatre Uncut, because it shows that the stage is a more than capable force of populist protest.

The Saturday following Mr Osborne’s Budget speech, over 250,000 people took to the streets of central London for a mass rally against the coalition government’s austerity measures. Many demonstrators were arrested, injured or simply ‘kettled’.

But what would you think was the best way to convey the stupidity of the funding cuts to the arts? Surely it was to write a bloody good piece of theatre about it.