Out of catastrophe can come a new artistic floweringby Michael Coveney / July 1, 2020 / Leave a comment
The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc everywhere. At least we can be certain that schools will re-open, as will sports stadia, cinemas and galleries. But some jeremiahs are predicting that, unless there is some kind of drastic financial intervention by the government very soon, 70 per cent of Britain’s theatres will disappear down the plughole.
This will have severe economic as well as cultural consequences. As many people go to the theatre every year as they do to football matches—34m of them. Theatre revenues in 2018 stood at £1.28bn, with the cultural sector overall providing £32.3bn to the nation’s economy. In London alone, in 2019, the theatre paid £133m in VAT.
It seems as if the government doesn’t understand the figures and the extent to which it needs the theatre to be successful. France and Spain have already made emergency tax measures available to their theatre industries.
One or two theatres—the Nuffield, Southampton, and the Southport Theatre in Lancashire—have already gone into liquidation, countless productions nationwide have been lost, and most theatres are engaged in cost-cutting and redundancies as their scant resources disappear by the day. Pantomime is the cornerstone of most regional theatres’ economic survival and unless they can plan for full houses by the end of August, many of them will simply close down.
The wealthiest London producer, and theatre owner, Cameron Mackintosh, is losing millions by the week, shedding staff around the world and sitting tight for a green light in the spring. The five-step roadmap announced by culture secretary Oliver Dowden—the man who said it was fine for theatres to open as long as they didn’t perform anything—is reasonable enough but, with no dates attached, the industry is dancing in the dark and running on empty.
Which is why there are mutinous stirrings already, notably the announcement that Ian McKellen will play Hamlet at the Theatre Royal, Windsor… some time soon. Rehearsals, which are allowed in Dowden’s plan, began on 29th June. On the same morning, a drive-in live performance of the rock musical Six (about Henry VIII’s wives) was announced, touring 12 sites across the UK in August and September. These two ventures may precipitate Dowden’s third step, which allows for outdoor performances with an…