Britain’s theaters have been in financial crisis since the coronavirus pandemic forced them to shut last March. Although a few have hosted performances for socially distanced audiences, most have only survived through a combination of crisis grants and layoffs.
The largest playhouse in Birmingham, Britain’s second-largest city and one of its most diverse, is leasing space to the courts service. But the move has angered theatermakers in the city who claim the courts and the police have historically targeted communities of color, and that theaters should be kept as spaces for creativity.
Jay Crutchley, a Black director, said in a telephone interview that the Rep — as the Birmingham Repertory Theater is known there — had “just endorsed probably the biggest systematic oppressor of Black people in this country.” Young Black men were disproportionately represented in Britain’s prisons, he added, and many people growing up in Birmingham — white and Black — had bad experiences with the police.
“I’ve had close friends go through the court system,” he said, “and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stopped and searched.”
The Rep’s decision to host a court was turning the theater into a potential site of trauma, Mr. Crutchley added. “There’s a line for me where ethics gets in the way of money,” he said.
The theater, whose spokesman declined an interview request, said in a blog post that the deal with the courts was needed to secure its financial future, and on Monday, the theater announced two online meetings to listen to the feedback of anyone concerned about its decision.
As makeshift courts spring up in some theaters, Britain is scrambling to prevent long delays in its criminal justice system. Four top inspectors for policing, prisons, probation and prosecutions warned in a report on Tuesday that the court case backlog in England and Wales posed “the greatest risk to criminal justice.”
The pandemic has exacerbated delays in the criminal justice system, prompting the inspectors to express “grave concerns” about the situation. The backlog in crown courts, where the most serious criminal cases are heard, has reached more than 53,000 cases and it is believed that some crimes from last year will not go before a jury before 2022.