VIEWS: Christmas 2021 – uncertain season piles on stress for theatres and producers

As mask mandates return to attempt to head off a Winter wave of new Covid variant Omicron, the theatre industry once again braces itself for cancellations and no-shows.

Brave producers getting shows out to the public are experiencing considerable resistance as the new variant causes a change in people’s behaviour, especially as regards being in a large hall with many hundreds of others at close range and feeling as though they have little control of their situation.

We really must all salute the courage and optimism of producers, working against a headwind of ever-morphing risk, to bring employment to creatives and entertainment to audiences.

Theatres who produce their own pantomime make a huge investment in order to financially front-load their year ahead, and the news that pantomime bookings are significantly down across the board will cause difficulty for all those brave venues trying to service their local communities and their creative community too.

But things can change very rapidly these days, and it is still hard to see how this new variant will act – and in what ways it will be different from the last prevalent variant. The incompetent UK government’s about-face in asking us to all wear masks again is too littl, too late yet again – it’s doomed to failure, thanks in most part to their abject lack of responsibility or leadership by example over the last 18 months. They really are an utter waste of space.

The sudden requirement for theatre audiences to wear masks again has reportedly caused a wave of requests to theatres for refunds. How theatres deal with this will be yet another thorny issue for producers, theatre owners and their hard-working and under-praised box office staff who have to square the circle with the public.

The plain fact is that that the mask requirement is patently unenforceable, even by the nicest and most eagle-eyed front of house staff. It is simply not doable for a handful of staff to enforce mask-wearing of hundreds of people – and of those who actually bother to comply, a fair proportion will be using the masks as a chin guard after 10 minutes – that, I can guarantee you.

Current audiences will mostly be those who calculate their own risk and of those around them and feel it “worth the gamble”.

However, I sincerely feel for all those parents and grandparents who feel genuinely unsure about taking their little ones to experience the joy and fun of pantomime, feeling desperately uneasy within themselves but feeling an obligation to act in a certain way for others, causing them untold stress and perhaps even illness.

Personally, I won’t be back inside a theatre until the case numbers have dropped significantly. But I am looking forward to getting back to the theatre we all love.

Have a very happy Christmas, and please enjoy theatre if you feel able, but please wear your masks (properly) and by respecting others, I sincerely hope that others will respect you, so that we can all have the Best Available Christmas once more.