When will things open up again? And will, when they do, which they will, will things be the same? The Stage has been looking at the forecasts – Andrew Lloyd Webber is reported as saying forecasts that it could be in June were ridiculous and he did not see his theatres reopening until the end of September. Daniel Evans, director of Chichester Festival Theatre, said one of the big things was the worry that when the dust had settled a bit, maybe when the worst was over, they would still not know how audiences would behave. They might not want to come and sit next to strangers in the dark for two hours. People did not like coughing in the theatre at the best of times but it was going to take on a whole new meaning.
Evans has a point. His theatre being of modern design does not cram the audience together in rows with inadequate leg room, but many of the old Machin houses, for example, certainly do. London’s West End has some horrors, not all Victorian, and there are Machin theatres round the country which look gorgeous but were designed for a very different age. Some have access to the auditoriums that can lead to the equivalent of tube rush hour crowding. Audiences may want more bucks for their money.
Whether this will apply to the small fringe theatres around the country is anybody’s guess. Some rooms above a pub are extremely cramped but other 50 seaters – the usual size – are actually not too bad, although again those with precipitous stair access may face difficulties in attracting their audiences. On the other hand if their appeal is local it may be seen as safer to go there than to head by public transport to some city centre venue.
Tom Morris of the Bristol Old Vic said there were concerns about the risks involved in the timing of reopening. If they re=employed staff and started rehearsing productions, commissioning creative teams, employing actors and selling tickets and then suddenly were not able to open they would be done for. They could not absorb this sort of shock twice. Finance is certainly an issue. The Stage said that a survey by SOLT, the Society of London Theatres, which covered 164 theatres nation wide, showed 77% of producers/producing theatres said they would need support beyond what they had already been offered by the Government.
Meantime there are sites showing past productions. Lloyd Webber has The Show Must Go On which you can find on You Tube where every Friday a production of one of his shows which have been filmed will be available for 48 hours. One to look forward to should be By Jeeves, a 1975 flop based on the P G Wodehouse characters, which he is particularly fond of. You can check on line.
There is, as we know, no business like show business, but at the moment the problem is there is no business/