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I felt the need to finally break my blog silence today (if the fact I have only blogged about once before can count as breaking a silence).
That is for one reason. In Deptford (which in SE London nestles between its trendy student cousin New Cross and rich sometime snobby uncle Greenwich) a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions is taking place.
I have grown to love Deptford during my time in London. It is where my place of work resides so I have spent lots of time walking its streets. I love its awesome market and the quirky nature it holds, and its inhabitants all possess. One of its gems is being taken away however. And without a sad whimper.
The Deptford Arms on Deptford High Street is closing down. Without warning and without any sign of a petition or anything. It is being replaced with a Betting shop… Or should I say ANOTHER betting shop. PADDY POWER coming soon! – It says in the windows of the boarded up pub. That will mean that a 100m stretch of Deptford High Street will have at least four bookies. Nothing seems to hit home more about the fact we really might have to deal with a recession (apart from the actions of a Tory government –… Liberal who?) than countless Bookmakers popping up everywhere when everyone else is closing down. Suddenly gambling with risk and chance is the only way some will find to make ends meet – to find a way to gain the wealth people feel is at least acceptable. It is this risk that seems so more appealing when your pay check no longer stretches further than one pint (thus the closing pub)
… So where do the arts fit into the changing face of Deptford High Street (and changing name to Betford or perhaps Debtford). Two things: The Deptford Arms closing is tragedy of Shakespearian proportions because it is the place Marlowe met his tragedy. It is where Christopher Marlowe is meant to have been stabbed and it had still existed till this very day (does anyone know if it is still the original building? – answers on e-postcards, please) until Paddy Power decided to move in and give the people extensive choice on where they want to gamble their money and loiter in until about 9pm (!). The second thing is it reminds me of something that someone from Birmingham Rep once said at Exeter Uni at a conference at some point (my memory is profound). We seemed to be just approaching the recession then and many people were pondering how this would affect the arts. The chap from the Birmingham Rep stated that a recession meant that theatre had to take MORE risks and not play safe like he felt most would. He believed that it would be risk that would find the success stories and that a recession meant artists had to be even more creative, think even further away from the dreaded box to find the next big thing.
It is in this regards that I think performance should follow the example of Betford. We need to gamble to find the products and shows that will give us cultural wealth. Even if we remain short of pocket. It is that empty feeling in our wallets that should make everyone push the boundaries of theatre to find the next huge show.
So pay heed big theatres and producing houses. Pay heed companies and artists who think now might be the time to play safe. People short of money will take a risk on something they think could be new and great. Not safe, old and more of the same. They can’t afford it. Pay heed or find your establishment go the way of something similar to Marlowe’s now defunct watering hole. Pay heed or watch your theatre become a Foxy Bingo bingo hall.