Theatre news

No one in London or the regions is going to be seeing Phantom of the Opera any time soon. c. Johan Persson

A round-up of some of the latest developments in the world of British theatre in response to Covid-19.

The impact of the coronavirus, lockdown and social distancing has clearly been an utter disaster for live theatre and music venues around the world. It is difficult to see how they can adapt to social distancing whilst maintaining profitability. Besides, how many plays, dances and musical scores can really be performed with all participants keeping more than a metre apart? A great many famous venues have intimated that they may not survive 2020, and some have already started negotiating redundancies.

Redundancies loom

Shakespeare’s Globe in London is one of the venues that has said it is facing closure. Several theatres have already become insolvent, including Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre and Leicester’s Haymarket Theatre. The TKTS Ticket Booth in London’s Leicester Square has also closed for good, with the loss of 20 staff.

Nimax Theatres own the Palace, Lyric, Apollo, Garrick, Vaudeville and Duchess Theatres in London’s West End. Performances are currently cancelled to 2nd August, and the company has confirmed that it has begun the process of making redundancies for about a third of its total workforce as a result of the pandemic.

Cameron Mackintosh and Delfont Mackintosh Theatres have decided to delay the return of their productions of Les Misérables, Mary Poppins, Hamilton and The Phantom of the Opera until early as practical in 2021. They are looking into potential redundancies for all employees on these productions.

More than 100 jobs at Theatre Royal Plymouth are at risk, as the venue begins redundancy consultations. Meanwhile Theatre Royal Newcastle has made “the very difficult and heartbreaking decision” to make 44 of its 89 staff redundant.

Other venues that are planning mass redundancies include London’s National Theatre, Birmingham Hippodrome, Oxford Playhouse, Pitlochry Festival Theatre, and the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh.

Cancelling Christmas?

Even pantomimes are now in danger. Leicester’s Curve theatre has cancelled its Christmas show, and Norwich Theatre Royal has just followed suit. Meanwhile, all is quiet at Qdos Entertainment, the specialist pantomime production company responsible for most of the big regional pantomimes every year. With its last item of news dating from mid-March, its website seems frozen in time like Sleeping Beauty’s castle. The company could probably swing into action again pretty quickly, as it has a lot of resources and huge experience, but the prospects for 2020 pantomime are not looking good.

Things are not much better across the pond, with the recent announcement that Broadway theatres will not re-open until at least January 2021, and that Canadian circus company Cirque du Soleil is to cut 3,500 jobs to avoid bankruptcy.

Some venues are bouncing back

Not all is gloom, however. Chester’s Storyhouse is an arts complex with a cinema as well as a theatre, and will be opening its cinema from 4th July. The clifftop open-air Minack Theatre in Cornwall is opening its gardens and site to pre-booked visitors from 30th June, and plans to present a limited season of performances by socially distanced performers, for a socially distanced audience. Its original 2020 schedule has been moved to 2021. As previously reported, (see below), Glyndebourne in Sussex will have open air concerts this summer. And English National Opera is planning a socially distanced season of “stripped-back” productions, with every other row empty and audiences spaced with a two-seat gap between them.

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