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September 26, 2017

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Small London theater feels pain of UK austerity

LONDON -- London's West End theater district is booming with new shows opening every month yet small state-funded venues in the capital are being squeezed from all sides.

Theaters which showcase edgy and political work that would never find a mainstream audience are struggling to deal with cuts of up to a third of their funding as local authorities are forced to tighten their belts.

At the Tricycle Theatre in the deprived north London district of Kilburn, Nicolas Kent has spent 28 years shaping an eclectic output.

In the last 12 months his team have produced work examining the riots which tore through London last summer and a two-part play about the history of the nuclear bomb.

But now Kent has had enough.

"I've resigned. I quit in protest because I thought these cuts were much too big," the 67-year-old told AFP in one of the Tricycle's rehearsal rooms.

Speaking during a brief moment of quiet in the building, which also hosts a cinema, a cafe and an exhibition space, he said: "I understand the need for austerity, and for the theater and culture to take its share.

"But what seems to be happening is that the smaller and medium-sized culture bodies seem to be taking the biggest cuts while the very large institutions are getting fairly negligible cuts."

The Tricycle will have 350,000 pounds (US$550,000, 420,000 euros) less to spend next year compared to this year, out of a budget from grants that was about 1.2 million pounds.

With a capacity of just 250 — the biggest theaters in the West End are nearly 10 times that size — ticket receipts only recoup a quarter of the 175,000-pound cost of putting on a play.

The Tricycle employs a staff of 40, with up to 400 people helping out on a voluntary basis, and Kent says there is simply no fat to trim.

"The cuts didn't affect the large institutions half as much as they affected the smaller ones because the larger ones don't get much local authority funding while the smaller ones do, because they are working within their community.

'I have deep fears'

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