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Sir David Hare vs Nicholas Serota: Artistic knights clash over Hampstead theatre funding

Hampstead’s worst crime is its name, says playwright in war of words

16 October, 2017 — By Gerald Isaaman

Sir David Hare

TWO artistic knights, Sir David Hare and Sir Nick Serota, have clashed over the slashing of Arts Council funding for Hampstead Theatre.

Award-winning playwright Sir David, who lives in Hampstead, declared the decision “a really shabby business” as the theatre is so successful, describing it as a catastrophic start to Sir Nick’s new role as chairman of the Arts Council, which he took on in January. Funding for the theatre in Eton Avenue, long admired for its production of new plays, is being cut 14 per cent cut to £752,607 a year until 2022.

“Hampstead’s worst crime is its name,” said Sir David. “It sounds as if it is in a prosperous part of London, so the thinking is that its outstanding new plays are seen exclusively by the well-heeled. In reality, 80 per cent of its audience comes from outside the borough of Camden. Does Arts Council England even know? “I did actually correspond with Nick, because singling Hampstead out for special punishment was so outrageous. We had an exchange of letters, but I can’t say it was enlightening.”

Sir Nick, who grew up in Hampstead, said: “I appreciate that he (Sir David) is committed to Hampstead Theatre and to new writing, but the Arts Council panel felt that the organisation could manage on a little less subsidy, especially since their grant was so much larger than that of some comparable theatres in London.”

He added: “As someone who grew up in Hampstead, I can remember the early days, so David Hare is right to claim that Hampstead Theatre has a long tradition in supporting new writing. They still receive more support than other theatres of equivalent size, but the Arts Council also has to support new companies working in communities and parts of the city that have only recently gained a chance to experience contemporary theatre.”

Sir David is among 47 writers, including Howard Brenton, Tony Kushner, Lucy Kirkwood and Tom Stoppard, who signed a letter calling for the Arts Council to rethink its decision on reducing Hampstead’s funding. Sir David said: “I think it’s a really shabby business. I was at the Royal Court in the 1980s when the Arts Council targeted it at the wish of William Rees-Mogg – the even less impressive father of Jacob – and unless someone complains loudly in public, they take no notice.”

Hampstead Theatre director Edward Hall, the son of the late, great theatre director Sir Peter Hall, declined to comment.

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