Birmingham City Council are running an exclusive scheme named “Northfield Nights” that claims to subsidize theatre ticket prices at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre for residents in the south of the city, meaning that they can enjoy productions from as low as £2 entrance (Bromsgrove Standard, 23rd August).
The finer detail however reveals that only certain suburbs are included in this scheme, namely Northfield, Weoley, Longbridge and King’s Norton, whilst those who live in other south Birmingham areas such as Harborne and Egbaston will still have to pay full price.
As Birmingham Rep’s “Community Engagement Officer” so patronisingly puts it:
"Many people in Northfield have perhaps never visited The REP theatre before so our Northfield Nights scheme will give them a fantastic opportunity to see wonderful shows and have a great night without breaking the bank”.
No one is debating the importance of the arts, but it’s a fact that at most theatres in the West Midlands, ticket prices start around £10, with concessions for younger and older people. The Rep itself generally charges around £5 for anyone under 26 and this is even echoed at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon. So if the residents of Northfield want to visit the theatre they can do so for the price of a cinema ticket (plus popcorn!), far less than the price of a football match, and perhaps even less than a Friday night takeaway.
Consequently, those in disadvantaged parts of South Birmingham are already at liberty to explore the arts if that is their wish, and if it isn’t, who are Birmingham City Council to lure or coerce them into doing so? Ratepayers from the whole of the city should not be having to subsidize this scheme, which benefits only very few people in an ambiguous and intangible way. These sorts of unnecessary and indulgent schemes keep council tax rates high and cost more to arrange and implement than their intrinsic value actually warrants. If local government scrapped projects like this and used the money to invest in frontline services and tax cuts then perhaps we’d all have more money for theatre visits without their intervention.