Dear London

Yes. OK. Right. We get it. You’re the capital city. You’re important. You’ve got the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall and Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and all the rest. Of course you have.

And you’ve got the Royal Albert Hall and the Wigmore Hall and the Royal Festival Hall and the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room and the British Library and the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum and the Imperial War Museum and the National Maritime Museum and the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery and the Hayward Gallery and the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern and…

Oh, I give up! There are too many to remember!

You’ve also got the Royal Opera House, the Royal Ballet, the Coliseum, Sadler’s Wells. You’ve got all the West End theatres, the National Theatre, the Barbican, the Off-West End theatres…

So, yes. OK. We do understand. You’re important. Consider your back patted.

But you know something, London? More people live outside of you than in you. There are more theatres and art galleries and arts centres and concert halls and museums outside of London than in it. And there are more theatre-makers and dance-makers and artists and musicians out here beyond the multi-million pound car park called the M25.

Not only that: if it wasn’t for those of us from outside coming in, either from the rest of the UK or from abroad (and paying the ridiculous prices you charge – I mean, you charge more for an interval ice cream than I’d pay for a half in my local producing theatre!), all of your much vaunted arts venues would collapse. During the pandemic we’ve seen multi-millionaire (or is it billionaire?) West End theatre owners crying into their cocktails and pleading poverty while out here in the real world for months on end actors and companies and actual theatres and their supporters have been pulling out all the stops to support themselves.

And while we’re talking prices, when you ever so graciously send out your productions to make some money from the peasants beyond the M25, not only are the tickets more expensive than in any other local theatre but even the drinks cost much more. Yes, a couple of glasses of wine can cost as much as a pair of tickets for other local venues!

And yet, in the two rounds of the Culture Recovery Fund during the height of the pandemic, you (population 9.4m) received more than 2.5 times the amount of grant aid that the North West (population 7.3m) which consists of Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside was awarded.

So! Do I hate London?

No, I don’t, but I do hate your arrogant assumption that everything about you matters far more than anything here in the North East, or the South West, or the Midlands, or Wales, or Scotland, or, indeed, anywhere in the British Isles.

If I never go to London again, would I miss it? ‘Course I wouldn’t. I’d miss – in fact I already am missing – going to the Lakes or the Yorkshire Dales, Edinburgh or the Scottish Highlands and Islands, Snowdonia or West Wales. But London? No. No way.

And why not? Because pre-pandemic I saw lots of good – no, great – theatre up here. Not just North East theatre but co-productions or tours from all over the country, from the North West to the South West, from Yorkshire to Scotland and further afield.

And loads of great stuff is happening now that restrictions have been loosened. In the last week or so I’ve seen a musical (from London), some fantastic contemporary dance (local), a (local) revival of a Lancashire play and a joyous (local) comedy which is off on a regional tour to theatres and village halls. I unfortunately missed (health issues) a double bill of (local) new plays which I am reliably informed was superb. And there’s much more to come, local and regional.

So get off your high horse, London, and accept yourself for what you are, just the store front for that massive enterprise which is British theatre.

Read more by Peter Lathan

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