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Shouts and Murmurs – April 30, 2024

Hello, and welcome to Shouts And Murmurs, a weekly email for paid supporters of The Crush Bar, written by me, Fergus Morgan.

Every week, I round up the best theatre writing elsewhere – reviews, interviews, opinion, long-reads – plus any other interesting or inspiring theatre stuff I find. At the moment, you can read the top section for free, but you have to pay me £5/month or £50/year – or just email me, if that seems a bit steep – if you want to read the quality content on the other side of the paywall.

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This week: a bit about the revolving door at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, inspired by Thangam Debbonaire’s speech at The Stage’s Future Of Theatre conference; a look at the reviews of Testmatch in London, The Other Boleyn Girl in Chichester, The Legend Of Ned Ludd in Liverpool, and more; plus links to a load more interesting stuff worth reading.

Thanks for reading The Crush Bar, as always. If you want to do me one more favour, then you can share this newsletter far and wide and encourage others to subscribe via the button below.

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Previously in The Crush Bar:

Let’s start this week’s issue with a quick quiz.

How many politicians have been Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport since the Tories came to power in 2010? And how many of those politicians can you name? Go on. Have a go. I would be astonished if you can remember them all…

The correct answer is twelve: Jeremy Hunt (2010-12), Maria Miller (2012-14), Sajid Javid (2014-15), John Whittingdale (2015-16), Karen Bradley (2016-18), Matt Hancock (2018), Jeremy Wright (2018-19), Nicky Morgan (2019-20), Oliver Dowden (2020-21), Nadine Dorries (2021-22), Michelle Donelan (2022-23), and Lucy Frazer (2023-present). How did you do? I only got six: Hunt, Morgan, Dowden, Dorries, Donelan and Frazer.

Didn’t get them either? No worries. Here is one final question that is easy to get right: why have their been so many culture secretaries since the Tories took over? That’s right! It’s because they are a bunch of careerist philistines who see the job as nothing more than a rung on the ladder towards other cabinet positions where they can really achieve something, like confusing two separate countries on national television!

Last week, I was at The Stage’s Future Of Theatre conference in London, speaking on a panel about theatre in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. One of the day’s other speakers was Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire, who is overwhelmingly likely to be the next name on that list. You can read the entirety of her speech in full here.

“This portfolio really matters. It really matters for our economy… it really matters for jobs; and most importantly, it really matters because what it brings us is joy.”

Now, I am no fan of Keir Starmer or his version of the Labour party, but I think I might be a fan of Thangam Debbonaire. Here, at last, is a politician that understands the arts. Debbonaire was a professional cellist. Her husband is an opera singer and actor. As Lyn Gardner puts it in The Stage: “She knows how theatre works and more crucially how its ecology works, something that most politicians simply do not grasp.”

“Her speech demonstrated that she has listened to the arguments and heard them properly. She herself is a theatregoer and understands the art and the joy it brings and she actually talks about theatre, not just about the creative industries. Just imagine what it might be like if Labour wins the next election: to have a culture secretary who has a genuine enthusiasm for the arts and who therefore might actually want to stick around in the job for longer than a few months.”

Of course, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, I am not a fool. I know that, until Labour is actually in government, this is all hot air. I know that the policies (or policy-sentiments, which is as good as it gets with Labour these days) Debbonaire outlined in her speech (leveraging more investment in the arts, re-establishing their place in the curriculum, supporting freelance workers) are contingent upon Starmer not simultaneously cosplaying as Churchill (both Winston and insurance dog) and Hugh Grant in Notting Hill and listening to Debbonaire when he becomes PM.

At least, though, we will have a culture secretary passionate about putting the case for the arts to him, not just using the job as a stepping stone to performative cruelty.

It is always worth remembering, I suppose, that things could be worse. You could be in Scotland, like me, where culture comes third on Angus Robertson’s list of priorities behind “constitution” and “external affairs.” Or you could be in New Zealand, where pharmaceutical lawyer and ACT – New Zealand’s answer to Reform UK, except they are actually in a coalition government – spokesman for the arts Todd Stephenson recently gave this superbly stupid interview to Newsroom’s Steve Braunias, in which he confessed that he didn’t read novels and could only remember going to see one theatre show, which was Hamilton on Broadway. I actually kind of admire him.

I’ve wracked my brains as to how I could pivot this top ramble into a plea to become a paid supporter of this newsletter, but it is a tough one this week. I guess if I had more paid supporters, I would have more time to come up with something persuasive.

Free subscribers to The Crush Bar receive these emails every Friday. Paid supporters also receive Shouts and Murmurs on Tuesdays.

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