Clore Fellow Christopher Haydon’s AHRC research is an investigation into the class diversity of British theatre audiences.

Theatres should be egalitarian; not just in the stories told there, but as spaces in themselves. Yet for a lot of people, the theatre environment throws up a host of barriers before you even make it through the auditorium door…the pretentious marketing language, the strict rules stickered up everywhere, the aloof atmosphere of pre-performance pints (prosecco?) in the bar. When did the theatre get so middle class, or has it always been that way?

Clore Fellow Christopher Haydon explores this theme in a recent article for The Stage — Theatres urgently need to become egalitarian spacesThe article is based on Christopher’s AHRC research paper — Where are the workers? Read an extract below, or download the paper in full here.


“Ask almost anybody who works in the arts whether art can be a force for social good, and the answer will almost certainly be ‘yes’. Nicholas Serota, Chair of Arts Council England made this point in a recent Guardian column when he cited the 2017 Hull City of Culture as an example of how: ‘Art can change how communities are perceived and how people see themselves.’1 Writing to mark the launch of ACE’s Equality, Diversity and the Creative Case: A Data report 2016/17, he acknowledged that we are living in a time of increasing social division, riven by growing disparities in: ‘wealth, housing, health and education’. But, he argues: ‘the arts provide a place where ideas can be debated, explored and developed and new propositions can be put forward.’ Kully Thiarai, Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Wales puts this in a more personal way : ‘I grew up in a context where I didn’t have many opportunities or very much access to the arts at all. So I recognise what it feels like not to have that kind of voice. And I also recognise what happens when you give a community or a bunch of artists the voice to say something. It can be hugely powerful for an audience that doesn’t often see themselves reflected in that way.’ 

Anecdotally speaking, most people who work in the arts could probably find examples from their own experience that chime with Serota’s sentiments. I could list a number of projects I have worked on that have brought together people from widely different social and cultural backgrounds to create and experience something remarkable together. Yet, we should be honest with ourselves and ask: are these projects little more than the exception to the rule that our theatres are intrinsically middle class spaces? Can any single community project or individual show make up for the fact that, when we look out on the auditoriums of most theatres, what we see is row after row of privileged faces looking back?”