VIEWS: A time for focus

Well, I hadn’t expected for this to be a continuing series ,but things are changing quite quickly so I felt it was important to take a few moments to make a few observations.

Since the West End (and other shows) have reopened, albeit piecemeal, it has been a turbulent time. Some shows have realised that it will take longer to get back to pre-pandemic audiences, and have consequently postponed or cancelled national tours, adding further uncertainty to the ever-shifting schedules of regional theatres.

In the West End, shows at the Coliseum , the Dominion and Royal Court have had backstage or cast members register a positive COVID-test, which meant that their show had to close down for 10 days while everyone isolates. Let’s compare this to a footballer, who tests positive but the team can continue training and playing. Level playing field, I think not.

While 10 days closure seems very cautious indeed, what we must also remember are the knock-on effects of this. Hard-pressed Box Offices are beseiged with calls from customers wanting to reschedule their visits, not all of them happy or empathetic, with all the accompanying stress that brings (not all customers are lovely about changing their plans, believe you me!).

Further, you may not know but everyone who is forced to isolate receives no pay whatsoever. Can you imagine how precarious this all feels to a performer or backstage worker who was so elated at getting a job after 16 months, only to have the financial lifeline it provides pulled from under their feet. Requests have been made to adjust the quarantine requirements, but of course we see how slowly this government acts- if at all. This is a key impact of the Government not providing support in the form of an insurance-backed scheme to compensate producers for any losses due to Covid stoppages. Exactly the same sort of insurance coverage helped the Film and TV industry get back to work over a year ago. Why did the Government not help theatres too? You decide.

I am sure you can appreciate this makes no sense at all, but then why should we ask for sense from a government which clearly hasn’t a clue, with no concept of right or wrong, fair or discriminatory, compassionate or cruel. They just don’t care.

I have heard that performers in cancelled shows are receiving abusive or threatening messages via social media, which is utterly unacceptable. If any performers or crew member receives abuse, they should report it to the police immediately. It’s understandable that people are upset. A LOT of people are upset. But being upset at the wrong people is wrong – and no way to get anything sorted.

This COVID mess , if it is anyone’s fault, is the Government’s -from mistiming lockdowns and unlockings, to giving incorrect and confusing advice from start to finish which now leaves us back in the situation we were in at Christmas, with cases likely to soar to new heights, putting evermore pressure on our valued NHS.

Big shows like HAIRSPRAY at the Coliseum are taking on 12 extra performers to try to cover them for any future COVID- related restrictions, but very few shows (if any in this appallingly difficult time) could afford the budget to do that. And just imagine how that is cutting into the profit margin for what was already a tightly-forecast 12-week run.

Meanwhile, another change to contend with is that audiences are now sitting up close and personal to each other in venues packed to full capacity after the misleadingly-titled Freedom Day. My projection is that many will not feel ready for this after more than a year of separation – and that consequently, they will feel desperately uncomfortable, unsafe and unsure – they will reschedule where they can, others will simply not go and others wont buy tickets until they see the case numbers going down in a big way.

The Summer is usually one of theatres’ boom times, as tourists flock to our world-beating entertainment scene. The tourists aren’t here this year, so venues have to work even harder to get UK audiences in- and it’s not easy in a heatwave as we’ve had this last week, even in normal times. Theatres will be more than ever subject to last-minute booking which brings uncertainty as to their financial projections, and may certainly cause some producers to slash ticket prices in a panic to get any price for a seat. I hope this won’t happen, but rising case numbers and extreme weather make this more likely. I hope not, but,….


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