UK theatres, on 'brink of ruin', criticise government reopening plan

Streets are mostly empty and Theatres are closed in the normally busy theatreland area of central London, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.
Streets are mostly empty and Theatres are closed in the normally busy theatreland area of central London, Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Copyright Frank Augstein/AP Photo
By Lauren Chadwick
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The UK culture secretary's plan to reopen theatres has been criticised.


The UK government's plan to reopen theatres has come under fire due to its lack of timetable and relief funding for a sector hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Many in the industry have raised the alarm about mass redundancies as some theatres' and venues' futures are in doubt due to the crisis.

"Thousands of people are facing losing their jobs and government support is urgently needed," said Philippa Childs, head of the union Bectu which represents over 40,000 workers in the media and entertainment industries.

"Each day that goes by without government intervention jeopardises the future of theatres and the wider creative industries," Childs added in a statement.

Research commissioned by the Creative Industries Federation from Oxford Economics revealed last week that over 400,000 creative jobs could be lost, with creative industries projected to lose £1.4 billion [€1.5 billion] a week in revenue in 2020.

"We have made it crystal clear to [culture secretary] Oliver Dowden that without an investment plan to protect jobs & workplaces these efforts to develop return to work guidance will be meaningless," said the UK union for actors, Equity, in a tweet on Friday.

The government unveiled its five step plan for the reopening of theatres in media on Thursday but without a clear timetable or additional funding scheme:

  • Stage One – Rehearsal and training (with no audiences and adhering to social distancing guidelines)
  • Stage Two – Performances for broadcast and recording purposes (adhering to social distancing guidelines)
  • Stage Three – Performances outdoors with an audience plus pilots for indoor performances with a limited distance audience
  • Stage Four – Performances allowed indoors and outdoors (but with a limited distanced audience indoors)
  • Stage Five – Performances allowed indoors and outdoors (with a fuller audience indoors)
Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street via AP
Culture secretary Oliver DowdenPippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street via AP

"While the challenges are numerous, we have a clear plan & will proceed as quickly as public health advice allows," Dowden tweeted.

Euronews has reached out to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for further comment on the plan.

Creative unions along with 100 actors, writers and artists wrote in an open letter on Thursday to the British government that they fear British theatre is "on the brink of ruin".

"Research by UK Theatre/Society of London Theatre suggests 70% of theatres will run out of money by the end of 2020. For many, it will be sooner," the letter said, with the artists calling for an emergency relief fund.

The Theatre Royal Plymouth recently said that around 100 jobs were at risk due to the coronavirus crisis, prompting Labour MP Luke Pollard to write Dowden and request urgent support to prevent job losses.

Meanwhile, in an open letter to the UK government, Music Venues Trust, a charity aimed at protecting grassroots music venues, called for financial support and a reduction of VAT on future ticket sales.

The trust tweeted that a reopening plan should only be announced after a support plan, "if there is a sector remaining to be reopened."

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