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Krapp’s last government intervention

On a long drive, this morning, I came across an interesting piece on Andrew Marr’s Start the Week programme on BBC Radio Four, a radio station I still cannot quite give up. The thrust of the piece was that free market producers in London’s West End are creating shockingly ‘commercial’ and ‘unoriginal’ shows, and that something should be done about it to make life more interesting for London’s chattering classes. It was revealed, by the complainer, that the West End is really suffering on the ‘quality’ end of the market because of the government’s own National Theatre, which keeps putting on ‘fantastically original work’ for really low subsidised prices.

Arts-loving punters are finding these prices, such as £10 pounds, too good to resist, and so the West End is being driven to produce either endless film adaptations, such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, or endless musical compilations, mostly by Ben Elton. And something should be done about it!

All the program contributors banged on about it, for about ten minutes, without reaching any satisfactory conclusion. They stopped short of saying the government should introduce a regulation to make private West End producers run a minimum percentage of ‘quality’ plays, but I could it feel in my water that that was the direction they wanted to head in.

But what nobody contemplated, for even the briefest Mephistophelean moment, was that to get original work back into the West End the National Theatre should have its lucky government subsidy guillotined down to a figure of absolute zero. A free market for highbrow plays would then spring up, in place of a subsidy-deadened one, and the subsequent related tax cut would then help fund it, if this is what people actually wanted to pay for with their own money, rather than having a resident of Henley-on-Thames funding it for them.

Fat chance, obviously, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of this libertarian gig. I just wish my friends on the equally subsidised Radio 4 would, too. All those Oxbridge degrees between them and even the most obvious free market interference, which they freely brought up themselves, remains but an opaque wall of Kafkaesque complexity. One feels one could wait for Godot to put in a late appearance at the economists’ ball, before the penny will finally drop.

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