When closure was announced producer Sonia Friedman had 11 shows running round the world including Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt at Wyndham’s in Charing Cross Road. In the Observer – not everybody reads the same newspapers – she and some of the cast talked about the closure. Friedman said that the impact of the
pandemic represented the Greatest existential threat to the British theatre industry since the closures of the playhouses that ended the golden age of the Jacobean theatre in 1640. It cost more than £30,000 a week to keep each West End theatre closed, theatres which in the best of times needed to average at least 65% ticket sales at full price to break even, and that did not take into account restart costs, which were like to raise that to 75% making physical distancing impossible without game-changing state support. She said that as a theatre producer it paid to be Teflon-coated.
“I have always been quite good in a crisis,” she said. “I’m not going to give up until I’m done, and if I’m done the rest of the industry is going to be done too, because until then, I’m sure as hell going to be still standing.” As for Leopoldstadt, maybe it will return, but when is not yet known. The first of her productions likely to re-open will be Harry Potter in Australia in September where measures to control the pandemic have been “considerably more successful” than here or in the United States. But return it will as long as the company still wants to do it and audiences to see it.
As to what the Government have been doing, she pointed out that it is only now that a working party to try to plot a practical course for survival has been set up between the Department for Digital, Culture, Sport and Media, and the UK theatre’s two main umbrella bodies.
Late in the day one might think since, as she said, without drawing any conclusions, more people go to at least one show every year than go to all league football matches put together. And she warned that if no practical way ahead is found ten 70% of UK venues will have run out of cash by the end of the year.
That was Sunday. On 21 May she wrote that an eco system as intricate and involved as the British theatre shaped over 70 years was beyond price. It could not be rebuilt from scratch and without support was in grave danger. Protecting and preserving what we had would cost far less than reconstituting it from the ruins. It was time to act.
(You will find this and more in full article by Claire Armisted in the Observer and also in the statement Friedman issued in May. William Russell)
And she is not alone in The Times on the 17th four days later Caroline Norbury, head if the Creative Industrues Federation, warned that organisations outside London would be hardest hit without Government intervention and the effect would be “devastating and irreversible. Thousand of world leading creative businesses were set to close their doors, hundreds of thousands of jobs would be lost and billions lost to our economy.
Photograph: Jason Alden.