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Shows over? Theatres on the brink of collapse

‘No time to waste’, says top producer in appeal for government help

29 May, 2020 — By Tom Foot

A TOP producer has warned that West End theatres are “on the brink of total collapse” because of the coronavirus crisis.

Sonia Friedman demanded an urgent intervention by the government as theatre is incompatible with social distancing rules for both actors and the audience.

Her company has produced a string of award-winning shows including Book of Mormon, Legally Blonde and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Theatres have been told they need to find “innovative ways for audiences to return without packing venues and risking a rise in infections”.

Ms Friedman said: “I know it sounds melodramatic. It beggars belief, but it is a statement of fact… Unless there is intervention all West End theatres will be mothballed. Dark. We cannot let this happen.Without an urgent government rescue package, 70 per cent of our performing arts companies will be out of business before the end of this year.”

In an article, printed in the Daily Telegraph and on the Sonia Friedman Productions website, she said: “Since shutting their doors in mid-March, ­theatre companies have had virtually no income at all.

“We need our government to step up and step in – sharpish. There is no time to waste. British ­theatre is on the brink of total collapse.”

The Sonia Friedman Productions company has had to close and suspend 18 productions globally in the past 10 weeks.

Theatre producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh has said theatres were unlikely to be ready to reopen while respecting social distancing measures until 2021.

But Ms Friedman said: “We know the lockdown will not last for ever, but when it ends theatre’s problems don’t disappear.

“To put it bluntly, theatre is incompatible with social distancing. Most theatres need to sell 60 per cent of seats just to survive. The shortfall is not sustainable.

“If we want theatres to reopen, they will, for a time, until another solution is found, still need financial support.”

The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said: “As long as social distancing rules remain in place, it makes it very hard to make the numbers stack up… I’m not painting this bleak picture out of defeatism though. On the contrary, we have to, and will, find a way to protect our theatres and performing arts.”

Julian Bird, chief executive of Solt and UK ­Theatre, encouraged theatre­goers to consider making donations in order to help the sector.

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