"We've been boring audiences for decades now, and they've responded by slowly withdrawing their patronage. I don't care that the recent production of The Seagull at the Royal Court was sold out. To 95% of the population, the theatre (musicals aside for now) is an irrelevance. Of that 95%, we have managed to lure in maybe 10% at some point in their lives, and we've so swiftly and thoroughly bored them that they've never returned. They're not the ones who broke the contract. They paid their money and expected entertainment; we sent them back into the night feeling bored, bullied and baffled. So what are we doing wrong?
The most depressing response I encounter when I'm chatting someone up and I ask them if they ever go to the theatre is this: 'I should go but I don't.' That emphatic 'should' tells you all you need to know. Imagine it in other contexts: 'I should play Grand Theft Auto'....That 'should' tells you that people see theatre-going not as entertainment but as self-improvement, and the critical/ academic establishment have to take some blame for that."-London playwright/director Anthony Neilson, venting in the Guardian.
The argument gets a bit know-nothing, and, no, I don't think we need to compete with Grand Theft Auto to have a vibrant theatre again. But he does makes it forcefully. Worth reading the whole thing.
Incidentally, I don't think the solution to the theatre's problems lies in playwrights just writing better plays. I'm sure there are just as many good plays and bad plays out there as there's ever been. At least potentially. A bigger question for me is what does it take to get the better work on and out there.