Exclusive: West End vermin ‘out of control’ – Equity

Natalie Woolman

More than three-quarters of West End performers and stage managers who responded to a new survey claim there is a vermin problem in their theatre.

Answering Equity’s West End Spring Clean Campaign research into backstage conditions, more than 75% of stage managers and actors said that their West End venue had a problem with vermin and infestations.

In addition, 65.6% of actors reckoned that there was evidence of vermin infestation in their dressing room.

Equity general secretary Christine Payne said: “I knew it was bad out there, but I am really shocked by this. These findings mean that tonight, over 600 actors and stage managers will go to work knowing that they will probably see and smell vermin, both living and decomposing, in their workplace.

“I accept that many West End theatres are old and difficult buildings to manage, but this is running out of control. These appalling conditions must come to an end.”

Society of London Theatre chief executive Richard Pulford pointed out that, aside from vermin, the stage managers’ and performers’ responses were largely positive about backstage conditions.

Speaking to The Stage, he said: “I am disappointed that Equity has highlighted the one thing about which its members were dissatisfied. There’s an enormous amount of satisfaction reflected in the answers to the survey which it has not acknowledged.

“We know that there is a problem with mice. Everybody’s trying to deal with it as best they can but… it is exceptionally difficult in the centre of London to eliminate mice altogether. But people are doing their best, everybody is doing their best.”

Nimax Theatres chief executive and president of SOLT Nica Burns said: “We try to do the absolute best with what we’ve got – good, proper make-up tables, proper seating facilities, beds where it’s possible for them to rest. It’s essential that everything is clean and that the water is hot.

“We really do our best and, what can I say, if I could banish mice forever with a fairy wand, I would. All we can do is try and keep them at bay.”

“Come on, Equity, let’s see a little bit more of the collaborative spirit,” she added.

Elsewhere in the survey, there was a high approval rating for theatre conditions. More than two-thirds of performers said the toilets were clean and well-maintained, three-quarters said the backstage areas were clean and tidy, and all of the actors who responded to the survey reported that they had a seat, dressing table space and access to a mirror.

Similarly, 76.3% of stage managers reported that the backstage area was clean and tidy, and 77.6% said repairs were attended within a satisfactory time frame.

A union working party of West End performers and stage managers has been convened to make recommendations to Equity’s governing council in response to the survey’s findings.

Almost 350 performers and stage managers, covering 24 West End theatres, responded to Equity’s survey into West End working conditions. The survey was circulated among about 850 actors and stage managers last month.

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