A couple of nights ago a question arose in our post-show discussion. It is a question I am familiar with. I run Theatre Uncut. We commission writers to create short plays that explore social or political issues. We then release these plays, rights free, to be performed by anyone anywhere for a limited period and stage them in leading theatres across the country. So far this year 328 groups in 25 countries have downloaded the plays. While we don’t advertise our own political persuasion it is pretty obvious to which side we lean: we were set up in response to the cuts. We use the word ‘social’ believing that society very much exists. We give plays to other makers rights free. So the question that arose is what we often get asked: what about right-wing voices? What about a play by a right-wing writer?
There are two elements that underlie this question: whether it’s our job as theatre makers from a certain political persuasion to show a voice that we don’t agree with, and what exactly constitutes ‘right-wing’. The idea that there are no right-wing views put across in theatre is not true. You can see right-wing views beautifully delivered in some revivals of plays, or in some Shakespeare, and even in the neo-conservative worldview presented in some hugely popular musicals. New writing also tackles right-wing perspectives. Richard Bean’s England People Very Nice is a good example, and Theatre Uncut’s pieces are often written from perspectives other than our own.
But writers are not required to tell the world who they vote for. We have certainly never asked our writers to tell us what happens in the privacy of the voting booth. So when we ask about a right-wing writer are we looking for a playwright who self-identifies as right-wing? David Mamet is probably closest: famously writing an essay titled ‘Why I am No Longer a Brain Dead Liberal’, in which he surmises that the world is a marketplace, and argues that he no longer believes in the underlying goodness of people. But we don’t have a playwright who would stand up and say ‘I vote Ukip’, or even one that would say ‘I vote Tory’. We do have (or have had) famous right-of-centre novelists, and TV script-writers who are outspoken on their right leaning views.
So is theatre more lefty than other art forms? Theatre certainly thrives in opposition. It is an artform that is brilliantly critical, and can use empathy to stand up stories that show how big issues affect small people. So should we be searching for a right-wing voice? Is it our job to represent a voice we don’t agree with? Theatre is one medium among many. Downton Abbey, written by Julian Fellowes, is watched by 12 million people every week in the UK alone. The Daily Mail online has 100 million unique visitors per month. We have a Conservative government. So do we, as a theatre company, need to add to the prevalence of conservative voices? Should Theatre Uncut be actively seeking to find a right-wing writer?
We are often accused of preaching to the converted. We rail against the word ‘preach’, but if we believe in the power of democracy, in the power of thought and discussion, then the much maligned middle-class theatre audiences are exactly who we should be ‘preaching’ to: middle class, upwardly mobile voters, who might hear our small voice amid the booming voice of the many.