Government must deliver ‘comprehensive plan’ on theatre, union says

Theatre bosses across the country warn they face ‘devastation’ amid the pandemic.

Her Majesty's Theatre
Her Majesty's Theatre

The Government has been urged to deliver a “comprehensive plan” for theatre, with the industry “crying out for certainty”.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden set out a five-stage plan for the reopening of theatres – where live performances are currently banned.

But entertainment and media union Bectu said that this was not enough.

Its head Philippa Childs said: “This ‘roadmap’ provides no dates, no clarity, no support and no certainty. It provides none of the things the industry is crying out for.

Capital FM Monster Mash Up with Voxi by Vodafone – London
The Culture Secretary said he ‘desperately’ wants to see live shows return (Matt Crossick/PA)

“It demonstrates, once again, how little understanding there is in Government of what is happening in the industry right now and what is needed to help.

“Theatre workers are being made redundant now and theatres are going into administration now. We need a comprehensive plan and this announcement fails to address the key and pressing issues.

“A roadmap is fine – as long as you have enough fuel in the tank to get there. Many theatres don’t, and this much-awaited announcement falls woefully short of what is needed.”

The plan has several stages, with the next being outdoor performances with socially-distanced spectators, as well as pilots for indoor performances with a limited crowd.

The Old Vic
The Old Vic (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

It then allows for performances to take place inside with a limited, socially distanced audience, before performances are permitted both indoors and outdoors, with more people allowed in the audience.

But theatre bosses across the country warn they face “devastation” amid the pandemic and the plan has no mention of the financial assistance that many say is needed.

On Thursday, the Theatre Royal in Newcastle announced plans to make half of its staff redundant due to the impact of the lockdown.

Earlier this week, the Theatre Royal Plymouth announced it has started redundancy consultations following a plunge in revenues.

Oliver Dowden unveiled the plans on Thursday
Mr Dowden unveiled the plans on Thursday (Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA)

Mr Dowden said: “I desperately want to raise the curtain on live performances in theatres and music venues as soon as we can – they are the soul of our nation and a linchpin of our world-beating creative industries.

“We know the challenges – theatres must be full to make money, and performers need to be safe on stage as they sing, dance and play instruments – but I am determined to ensure the performing arts do not stay closed longer than is absolutely necessary to protect public health.”

UK Theatre and Society Of London Theatre also said theatres need more information so they can plan for the future.

Otherwise “theatres and producers will have to assume a worst case scenario and plan to be shut for a long period,” he said.

“With the rest of the economy now reopening quickly, we firmly believe that with the right safety processes in place, we can get back to full audiences in theatres within months – we now need Government to confirm this.”

Kate Varah, executive director of the Old Vic theatre in London, told the PA news agency: “I appreciate that others have come before us but I hope now that we have made a compelling enough case to give evidence of the real need here.”

Christine Payne, general secretary of actors’ union Equity, said that “without an investment plan to protect jobs and workplaces these efforts to develop return to work guidance will be meaningless”.

Theatres and concert halls can reopen from July 4 under latest guidelines but will not be able to stage live performances and will be limited to screening recordings of past events.

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