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Philanthropy – National Theatre’s Cottesloe venue to be renamed after £10m donor

Philanthropist Lloyd Dorfman (ri.) cashes out £10m to Hytner's National Theatre

To philanthrophise or not to philanthrophise – that is the question as Nick Hytner accepts a private donation of £10m to go towards the National Theatre’s £75m re-development project ‘NT Future’.

So Nicholas Hytner has accepted a generous gift of £10m in exchange for the symbolic immortality of a certain Lloyd Dorfman, founder of Travelex, a partner of the NT for the past 8 years. The Cottesloe Theatre, which is the lovely little studio at the back of the building, will be called the Dorfman Theatre when it re-opens after refurbishment in 2014.

A price worth £10m? Well, that probably depends on how much influence the perpetuator will have over the artistic direction of the place. He could turn it into the theatre of exchange and make punters use Cash Passports to buy their tickets in the universal currency that is the USD, however, it is unlikely. After all, the Cottesloe family reportedly wasn’t too bothered about giving up their claim to the name, so no suspicions there. They will still keep a little ‘room’ named after them anyway, perhaps a storage space or such.

Nicholas Hytner seems to have welcomed the gift with slightly bewildered but nevertheless very open arms. He is quoted as saying: “I never dreamt that his involvement with the National would have such a far-reaching and transformational effect. I couldn’t be more grateful to him; it is entirely fitting that his family name will be associated with an auditorium which often plays host to our most innovative work, and whose redevelopment will transform our facilities to introduce theatre to generations to come.” (Guardian)

Of course he would probably have never expected generosity on this scale, which is the biggest single private donation the theatre has ever received. In fact, less than a month ago, in an extract of Hytner’s foreword to the NT’s annual report posted on Whatsonstage (, he wrote: ”We all welcome the government’s commitment to encouraging philanthropy but at the time of writing, we still await substantive proposals.” Who would have thought.

However, in the light of the impending spending cuts, this still doesn’t mean that Britain will become the new America in terms of its funding model for the arts. Lower taxes as well as different traditions of funding regional arts make American-style philanthropy impossible for the time being, so Hytner wrote.

While it’s good philanthropic news for the NT and Hytner, it’s potentially very bad news for the regionals indeed, as they might not be able to secure sufficient funding. Hytner wrote: ”Many of them would simply close,” adding that this could have a detrimental effect on the arts in general: ”Immediate impact would be on the communities they serve, but the impact on the national companies would follow swiftly. All the writers, directors, designers and actors currently working at the National Theatre started their careers and gained the experience and expertise that made them what they are in the regions or on the fringe.”

So, will philanthropy save the arts under the impending 30% cuts to the Arts Council budget? Probably. But there’s a danger that the sector will suffer a from major restructuring, with many smaller companies struggling for survival. For now, thanks to Lloyd Dorfman and his cheque, at least the National is sits comfortably. Lets just hope that the Dorfman will stage the same innovative, quality productions as the Cottesloe currently does.

2 responses to “Philanthropy – National Theatre’s Cottesloe venue to be renamed after £10m donor

  1. TJ November 5, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Well, at least Dorfman gave us tickets for a tenner… what has Lord Cottesloe ever done for me?

    • CarmenR November 7, 2010 at 4:07 pm

      Cottesloe was chairman of the Arts Council and the South Bank Board, which was in charge of building the NT in the 60s/70s. He was partly responsible for hiring the architect who designed the NT and about whom he said: “the committee was particularly impressed when (Lasdun) said he knew nothing about designing theatres and would have to sit down and learn what was needed from our committee.” (
      So the concrete beauty is what Cottesloe has done for you. Ironically Dorfman is now funding to sort exactly that out. That the Cotts was not included in the original plans at all and now gets all that attention is a nice fact as well.

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