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Forty Years On: The Funding Conundrum at The Finborough


Sue Healy


The multi-award winning Finborough Theatre is a tiny fringe theatre venue in London that is broadly considered to ‘punch above its weight.’ This diminutive venue has incubated important theatre talent since it was founded in 1980. The Finborough’s stated aim is to champion and foster new writers, and revive pre-WWII neglected classics. Very largely unfunded, in order to achieve, maintain, and progress these joint objectives, the theatre has had to be innovative and canny in terms of financing projects, and has relied heavily on good will and industry willingness to work for significantly reduced payment, in exchange for experience and/or exposure. There is now a growing and understandable pressure for fair pay, however, which has been amplified on social media in recent years.

In an interview here, the theatre’s artistic director, Neil McPherson, agrees that it is difficult to defend the theatre’s history of poor payment but argues that current alternatives would be impossible to implement, and it would be impossible achieve the same measure of success and prolific programming if funding conditions had to be met. While considering McPherson’s views, I situate the Finborough within a number of theatrical, historical, critical, political, and cultural contexts. I consider its complex relationship with funding and with Equity, and explore criticism of its payment policy, revealing the ideological positions on which such assessments rest and tracing how they sit in practical terms and what viable routes there are to progress.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.