In 1997, Tony Blair became Prime Minister in a wave of renewed cultural confidence. The new government abolished entrance charges to museums and galleries, encouraged widening access to the arts, and made a generous new settlement to regional theatre. The newly-devolved Scottish Executive made real the long-held dream of a National Theatre of Scotland.
So what did happen? Did extra funding transform British theatre? Did access trump excellence (or the other way round)? Are verbatim and performance theatre new waves or last gasps? Is the new play dead? And what will be the impact of the Olympics?
To address Blair’s theatrical legacy we invited a wide range of theatre makers and commentators including Nick Hytner and Nick Starr from the National Theatre, Michael Boyd from the RSC, actor and equity activist Malcolm Sinclair, theatre consultatnt Peter Boyden, commentator Mark Lawson, actor/plawywrights Kwame Kwei-Armah and Robin Soans, writers Alistair Beaton, Victoria Brittain and Tanika Gupta, and directors Katie Mitchell and Emma Rice, to ask: how was it for us?
The day started with a keynote contribution from Tessa Jowell MP, the longest-serving Labour Culture secretary, whose 2004 challenge to instrumentalism in the arts advocated a seachange in policy.
The conference was organised by playwrights and academics David Edgar, Steve Waters, Dan Rebellato, Janelle Reinelt and Michael Early, and is being generously supported by the Universities of Birmingham and Warwick, the Writer’s Guild and Alan Brodie Representation.