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Married to the Job


Another unwise plea for a fairer system, where who you’re married to doesn’t matter.


When the MP expenses scandal broke, one of the main issues was the employment of husbands and wives as secretaries or consultants. The accusation was pretty obvious - these jobs should have been allocated according to merit, not marriage. Love is in the eye of the beholder, and so when the beholder is handing out secretary positions, any claim to meritocracy is hard to credit. In 2017 Ipsa banned MPs from employing family as staff.


These partners weren’t being given the launch codes, but we expected a greater degree of respect from MPs. After all, you can’t pretend you’re not in love with someone, even if you want to. You can’t compartmentalise your love into some other box. If you’re in love with someone, you just are. Love is love, and lucky you for having it. 


It’s hard to understand why, when it comes to Artistic Directors, the same rules don’t apply. Theatre folk try hard to be righteous on a whole host of issues, but when it comes to employing your spouse we simply don’t see a problem… Rufus Norris (National), Greg Doran (RSC), Rupert Goold (Almeida), Matthew Warchus (Old Vic), Jeremy Herrin (Headlong) and now Michelle Terry (Globe), have all employed their partners. These organisations are all registered charities. 


The returning argument tends to focus on the creative relationship between partners, the fact that they met at work, and that they create really good plays. And they do. I assistant directed on a production led by a director and an actor who are married. The show was very good. But it wasn’t fair. It was not meritocratic or fair. How could it be? Employer and employee were in love. 

And even then the ends do not justify the means. No one asked whether their MP’s spouse was a good secretary. No one asked whether they’d met at work. No one talked of their creative working relationship. 


Surely it's impossible, while pretending toward meritocracy, to objectively claim that your lover is a better actor/writer/director than everyone else. 

In the context of a company founded by a partnership (such as Cheek by Jowl) or in the development of fringe projects where no one is being paid, the situation is obviously different. But when it comes to large theatres, especially those who receive public subsidy (unlike the Old Vic and The Globe) it's pretty stunning. 


When Kevin Spacey and Max Stafford Clarke’s behaviour was dealt with, we were all revolted by the idea that any young graduate might think they have to sleep with a director to get a job. Well, if we are serious about reforming the industry’s relationship with sex, shouldn’t we start by not employing the people we’re already sleeping with?


This isn’t the most serious form of corruption in the world but, for theatres that receive public subsidy, it is corruption. Public money, intended for public use, is being funnelled into the pockets of a ‘connected’ individual. That individual might be a lovely man/woman in a jumper who’s standing in your kitchen, rather than the CEO of Big Pharma, but the result is the same - it’s a silent ‘fuck you’ to fair play.

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