Theatre’s fightback

Claire Maggie Dowens discusses the future of theatre in the light of recent venue re-openings.

Claire Maggie Dowens
27th October 2020

For more than half a year, theatres have been forced to close due to the pandemic. Venues which were once alive with the sound of music, laughter and dramatic art have been plunged into a deathly silence.

In an attempt to direct attention to the critical condition of the industry, many creative strategies have been implemented, such as the ‘Light It in Red’ campaign, which saw more than 2300 arts venues, landmarks and buildings illuminated in an alarming red across the UK. Despite these efforts, over 5000 theatre workers have lost their jobs, venues face ruin amidst serious financial difficulties and productions at stand-still.

On a seamlessly never-ending road of creative despair, the theatre industry, in the words of Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber, was at the “point of no return.” However, with venues having recently been given permission to open socially distanced indoor performances, as well as a £75 million rescue package allocated by the government to save 35 leading cultural institutions (including the Globe), we may finally be slowly returning to the bright lights of our much esteemed theatrical institutions. Some productions have already reclaimed their rightful place centre-stage, including the longest-running show in British theatre history; Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.

Nimax Theatres which owns six leading venues in the heart of London’s West-End, including the Apollo Theatre, are also set to reopen shows over the next month and will host reduced audience numbers to ensure public safety. The hit musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, as well as the award-winning comedy, The Play That Goes Wrong will return in November. Due to reduced capacities, the theatres will sadly be unable to make a profit, however, the company’s chief executive, Nica Burns remains optimistic and hopes to be able to entertain around 20,000 theatregoers per week.

Apollo Theatre - Wikipedia
Apollo Theatre | Credit: Wikipedia

Elaborating further she said “Although with reduced capacities it is not possible to make a profit, we will be earning a contribution to our costs. With the furlough scheme ending on 31 October, this income will help us retain Nimax’s highly skilled, experienced workforce and give work to some of the talented tapestry of freelancers onstage and backstage.”

Away from London’s theatrical landscape, other venues across the country are preparing to reopen their doors.

Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre will be performing a thrilling revival of rock musical Rent from 30 October and Newcastle’s very own Theatre Royal has confirmed that it will be hosting a special festive performance for its panto fans in December.

It is indisputable that the theatrical experience which audiences were once accustomed to will be far removed from reality, with the enforcement of safety measures such as temperature tests and the wearing of facemasks. However, with reduced audience capacities and fewer seats being occupied, it’s a great bonus for those who appreciate extra legroom and also greatly reduces your chances of having a tall person being seated in front of you, frustratingly blocking your view, (yes, we’ve all been there).

In such an unprecedented year, theatre has exploded onto a variety of digital platforms to offer us escapism, entertainment and to help warm the hearts of our nation.

The National Theatre’s NT at Home Scheme was one of the greatest virtual sensations of lockdown, screening 16 different productions and accumulating more than 15 million views from audiences across 170 countries. Online theatre is a really brilliant way to watch a variety of world-class performances for those who are still cautious of venturing out, live a long distance from London’s Theatre district, or can’t afford the extravagant prices of tickets. It’s also a perfect excuse if you simply want to kickback, relax and enjoy a viewing experience from the comfort of your own home.

Many leading theatre companies are providing audiences with a huge variety of shows to stream for free, including the Southwark Playhouse which is offering performance genres for every kind of theatre fan; from musicals to dramas.

For Shakespeare lovers, the RSC is currently allowing access of up to 18 of its most recent, star-studded productions via the performing arts streaming service, Marquee TV.

The Shows Must Go On YouTube channel is highly recommended for any musical theatre fanatic or for those simply in need of a feel-good boost. Having launched earlier this year to popular success and then taking a few months interval, the programme has now resumed sharing musical productions every week. Each show goes live on the channel every Friday at 7pm BST and remains viewable for 48 hours. Previous streamed productions have included hit shows such as The Phantom of The Opera, Hairspray and Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

For many theatre venues, the dream of being able to reopen is still being made economically unviable with social distancing under force.

Even leading theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh has had to take the difficult decision of postponing the return of a number of his West End shows until 2021, including the award-winning musicals Mary Poppins and Hamilton.

It is certainly clear that there are many difficult challenges which lie ahead for the industry but with a roadmap to recovery, millions of pounds worth of emergency funding invested and the slow reawakening of theatre venues, the theatrical world is edging ever more closely towards nipping the virus in the bud and bouncing back stronger than ever before.

In the famous words of Les Mis, “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”

Featured Image: Panos Asproulis via Wikimedia Commons

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