Is the Dome doomed and can the nation's theatres be saved? With just a couple of years before the clocks tick us into the 2000s, the contrast between the massively-funded Greenwich millenium dome,(who knows how that's to be filled?) and the nearby funding-deprived Greenwich Theatre, is painfully stark.
Round the country most of our theatres are skidding further into the red. Liverpool Playhouse, one of the first repertories to open its doors this century, has closed them - for a while at least. Elsewhere seasons are shorter, smaller, safer or creatively surviving on co-productions.
These can bring bonuses, not only on the balance sheets but in fusing creative resources and bringing variety to a repertory season while offering an extended run to touring companies. So Method and Madness will provide Exeter audiences with a survey of 20th-century theatre over the next couple of years and Kaboodle has a solid month's run at Liverpool's Everyman for its new Twelfth Night.
Last year showed the glorious potential in the regions - the sheer variety of styles in four versions of A Christmas Carol from Compass, Communicado plus Mold and Bolton for example. Or first-rate performances such as Tracy Bennett's two-in-one portrayal of a suspected Victorian murderess in Richard Hurford's Bedevilled at Sheffileld's Crucible Studio early in 1997, David Threlfall extraordinary at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Richard Hope's intriguing Odysseus Thump or Russell Hunter as a fantasising small town Scotsman in James Duthie's Greta, which closed 1997 for the Traverse in Edinburgh.
What does this show? That theatre beyond the most publicised megashows or the beaten track of set books and established classics can be well worth investigating. Who can say what will inspire new audiences? Frederick Knott's Wait Until Dark (Newbury last autumn, Watford this spring) could be written off as an old-hat thriller for the comfortable middle-aged only. Why then has Quentin Tarentino chosen it for his Broadway debut? Older students can explore the widening range of performance styles: half December's audience for Forced Entertainment at Leicester Phoenix seemed to be A-level students, Bristol's Arnolfini hosted Japan's Gekidan Kaitasha theatre in Tokyo GhettoOrgie, which opened with five minutes of a man slapping a woman's bare back - an opening that had provoked outrage with war-bruised Croatian audiences in1996, a reminder how much the audience makes the event. And who could resist Cardiff's Chapter Arts' offering of an experimental staging of a show on voyeurism ? It's the inspired hunch to visit a less familiar, show that can help make lifelong theatregoers out of the new generation.