Each time I go to Chichester Festival Theatre, I am slightly disconcerted by the demographic of the audience. In between scoops of ice cream, and while a vengeful barber turns another customer into a meat pie (Sweeny Todd is on until early November), I wonder where all the younger people are?
Then I remember I’ve forgotten to get a parking ticket and dash out ungracefully just as the curtain’s coming up, forcing the three dozen or so people in my row to coerce their legs to one side so I can squeeze past, trying to ignore their whispered suggestions that ‘all young people ought to remain in front of the television where they belong’.
The television, indeed, has a lot to answer for. It’s not the case that all television is bad and all young people suffer irreparably by bowing mindlessly before it 16 hours a day. After all, television, along with cinema, is a prolific, accessible and often very good medium of dramatic performance.
But, nonetheless, technological advances like the television, the clever phone and the internet have fostered a generation of people schooled on electronic, as opposed to live, sources of diversion.
Sure, live drama requires a spot of planning, a period of travel, a brief exchange of cash, and then an hour or two of concentration (remember that?); but this is not unduly challenging stuff.
And what’s more, Chichester produces consistently excellent plays which, if you’re under 26, can be seen for little more than a fiver.
This price represents a massive amount of subsidy – a subsidy made possible by the continued and admirable patronage bestowed upon the theatre by the region’s older residents.
It’s not that there are too many old people at the theatre; it’s that there are not enough young.
Given the above (good shows at a good price), why is there a consistent dearth of young blood at Chichester?
Are new technologies chiefly to blame, or artistic directors for not programming work that ‘engages’ younger people, or playwrights for not writing ‘engaging’ drama, or marketers for not communicating clearly or loudly enough, or schools for not nurturing new waves of theatregoers, or parents for permitting a tsunami of philistinism to gradually rain down upon tomorrow’s world..?
Okay, I’m getting hyperbolic, but with good reason – live theatre is important, brilliant, awful, edifying, daft, inspiring and difficult, and it needs to be championed.