Apart from the obvious fact that the government – like most of us – should be tightening its belt in these uncertain times, its decision to offer £2.5m worth of free theatre tickets to under 26 year olds is a gimmick that will go nowhere to meeting its aims.
Firstly, it should be admitted that some young people simply don’t enjoy the theatre. In fact, a very strong argument can be made that the artistic quality of theatre is at present below that of cinema, an art form that young people go to in droves. Theatre is disconnected from many of the people it could (not 'should') entertain, and with the state increasingly subsidizing the arts, the connection between theatres and the people is being broken down even further.
The arts should be prized away from the state. The first phase should be to introduce a more localized tax system, then letting local communities decide whether or not to subsidize their theatres. Taking the unwieldy hand of state out of the education system would also be a step in the right direction. Competition between schools would encourage better teaching of English and Drama, inspiring students to love rather than loathe the idea of watching a Shakespeare play.
For the second phase we can learn from the masters of theatre: the ancient Athenians. This city-state did not burden its citizens with excessive taxation, forcing citizens to contribute to a general fund to make theatre accessible to all. Instead, wealthier citizens would finance plays out of their own pocket, revelling in the glory that came in staging the latest play by Aeschylus, Sophocles or Euripides. Currently, those with more wealth are taxed at a higher rate than the rest of the population. If the next government eases this burden, those with the wealth and interest will be free to give.