Theatre in London has talked the talk of inclusion and diversity for aeons now. The idea that theatres should be making work for everyone and by everyone – not just posh white folks – is in part how they justify their Arts Council cash.
But was 2018 the year London theatre finally started to walk the walk? The homecoming of Kwame Kwei-Armah to the Young Vic makes him the most prominent BAME artistic director in the country, while the startling turnover of ADs elsewhere in the capital has seen a once almost exclusively male preserve creep closer to gender parity, with Lynette Linton at the Bush, Nadia Fall at Theatre Royal Stratford East, Rachel O’Riordan at the Lyric and Roxana Silbert at Hampstead.
There have been some startling strides made in the West End this year,with Arinzé Kene’s ‘Misty’ the second-ever play by a black British writer to transfer there and Natasha Gordon’s ‘Nine Night’ the third (and the first by a black British woman).But perhaps the most impressive move has come from producer Tobi Kyeremateng’s Black Ticket Project. A grassroots initiative to give free theatre tickets to young black audiences, it started 2018 small and finished the year partnering with the West End musical ‘Caroline, or Change’ to offer 500 free tickets. ‘To me, it’s achieved exactly what it was meant to achieve,’ Kyeremateng says. ‘Black young people have been able to access theatre they may not have been able to access if not for BTP. They might have loved the shows or absolutely hated them; it doesn’t really matter. The point is that they got to see them.’ She’s not getting carried away, though, noting that BTP wouldn’t be necessary if the liberal theatre establishment lived up to its professed values. ‘I don’t think it’s a particularly revolutionary initiative,’ she says. ‘Because that assumes that venues can’t do this work themselves.’
It’s not a surprise, then, that Kyeremateng is a little cautious about the significance of the success of ‘Misty’ and ‘Nine Night’, noting that ‘they are definitely milestones and should be celebrated as such, but the proof will really be in the consistency beyond these great shows.’ She hopes that the Black Ticket Project is just a stepping stone: ‘The ultimate, sky-blue dream is for it to become obsolete,’ she says. We can totally see her point – but the BTP is the mother of all silver linings, and we look forward to seeing what it achieves in 2019.
Read our full list of ways London changed in 2018