Coronavirus having a ‘terrible’ impact on regional theatres, warns MP

Dame Margaret Hodge said theatres will take ‘irrevocable decisions’ around staff cuts unless further support is announced for the sector.

Dame Margaret Hodge
Dame Margaret Hodge

Coronavirus is having a “terrible” impact on regional theatres and a redundancy announcement by a Plymouth venue “won’t be the last”, an MP has warned.

Dame Margaret Hodge, who is the chair of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, warned venues will be taking “irrevocable decisions” around staff cuts if a support package is not announced within the next ten days.

Her comments come after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that while lockdown restrictions are set to be eased in pubs and restaurants, live performances will continue to be banned.

Timothy West interview
Live performances are still banned (Jon Craig/PA)

Dame Margaret told the PA news agency: “I think it is terrible for regional theatres across the country because they are even more dependent on the income they get from their audiences.”

Addressing the announcement that Theatre Royal Plymouth has started redundancy consultations following a plunge, she added: “It is not the first and it won’t be the last and we should have had a rescue package on this yesterday.

“That is the urgency of it.”

She said one of the tactics theatres might use to make it through the crisis is to “mothball the theatre, make everybody redundant and wait to come back again”.

“It is a terrible loss. It is a tragedy for the individuals and it is just the wrong way to go,” Dame Margaret said.

She added that theatres will not be able to afford to put on shows with social distancing measures in place even if regulations are relaxed as they will not be profitable enough.

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Dame Margaret praised the UK’s creative industries (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Dame Margaret said Britain is “brilliantly renowned” for its creative industries and, in addition to their cultural worth, they are a great asset to the economy.

“Our creative talent is one of the things we are best in the world at and to lose that because of the pandemic would a nightmare, a disaster, not just damaging our soul but damaging our economy,” the Labour MP said.

Jermyn Street Theatre in London announced on Wednesday that it will remain closed for the rest of 2020.

A post on the venue’s Twitter page said: “Theatre is an ancient and enduring art form.

“But recovery to anything like the current levels of production could take a generation, without Government intervention now.”

On Tuesday, Royal Albert Hall chief executive Craig Hassall warned the Government needs to provide solutions around the reopening of the creative sector in “weeks, not months”.

The London venue has lost around £12 million in potential income, he said, adding they are in a “desperate situation”.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said: “The performing arts industry is one of the UK’s great success stories and we are doing all we can to support the sector through government grants, loans, the furlough scheme and the Arts Council’s £160 million emergency response package.

“We are working with the sector to get it fully back up and running as soon as possible and considering ways in which we may be able to support it further in addition to this unprecedented financial assistance.”

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