When UK theatres went dark in March, thousands were plunged into uncertainty. Five theatremakers – a director, actor, playwright, stage manager and lighting technician – tell Theo Bosanquet what it was like when the curtain fell
Artistic director, Out of Joint – her production The Glee Club was on tour
It happened in a creep, like watching a car crash in slow motion. In week four of rehearsals I had a meeting with Martin [Derbyshire, chief executive of Out of Joint], in which he said: “I’ve checked our insurance and we are not covered for a pandemic… we have to start thinking about what that means for the company.” That was three weeks before the lockdown came in.
Shortly after we opened, we noticed that ticket sales were beginning to flatline, despite really good reviews and word of mouth. At Theatr Clwyd, our third tour venue, they began to fall off a cliff, and the venue started to get requests for refunds. Then on the Thursday [March 12] the government told people effectively to carry on as normal. We were hoping for much more decisiveness.
The company on The Glee Club is the most extraordinary group of people, and I was really worried about what would happen to them. Shortly after Boris Johnson made his announcement advising people to avoid pubs and theatres [on March 16], we took a decision to end the tour but pay everyone through their six-month contracts.
I think touring companies will have a really important part to play when theatre comes back, because we’re fleet of foot. We want to take The Glee Club straight back out; people will be hungry for communal experiences, and it’s just the sort of show they will need. That said, we currently have no income, so we’re going to need help in order to do that.
Actor, was playing Prospero in The Tempest at Jermyn Street Theatre
The production had been a long time in the making, and we had a very good rehearsal and preview period. We opened rather ominously on Friday, March 13.
It was well reviewed and we played two shows on the Saturday, but when we came in on Monday, Boris Johnson issued his advice [about avoiding public gatherings]. The six-week run was completely sold out but we decided that evening would have to be our last public performance.
On Tuesday we gathered without an audience and recorded the production for audio and video. We weren’t sure whether it would be for the archive or another purpose, but it felt important to do. Tom [Littler, the production’s director and artistic director of Jermyn Street] told us he hoped to continue the run in in the autumn. That remains the plan, and Tom is doing lots of very good things in the meantime, including a project to record all Shakespeare’s sonnets by different actors, including myself. But the venue has of course taken a big financial bruise.
I very much hope the production will continue at some point because it was a very happy experience, but like everyone else we feel in the lap of the gods at the moment.
Lighting technician, was working on Cabaret, a Bill Kenwright Ltd tour
Monday is our fit-up day, and on March 16 we were getting in to Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre. We saw the news come through on social media that theatres were closing, and by the time we went to the pub that evening only one of our tour venues was still open. We got a call to say we would be meeting at 9am to take the set out again.
We packed all the lighting and sound equipment up, then a few us went back to the storage centre and spent the rest of the week unpacking 28 trailers from six shows. The cast members’ personal cases were still on the trucks. It was a huge job, and we then had to repack some of the trailers to return equipment to various hire companies.
The lighting and sound departments are all on PAYE (Pay As You Earn), so we could be furloughed, but we don’t know whether that will just be until the end of our contracts, which is early May. I’m fortunate that I’m living with my parents, so don’t have rent to pay, unlike many of the company. Several are already working in supermarkets. I’ve applied for jobs.
I don’t know when this will end but I do know that everyone will pull together when it does. That’s the great thing about working in this industry.
Writer, whose latest show Rockets and Blue Lights was in previews at Manchester’s Royal Exchange
Throughout rehearsals, the news about coronavirus had been in the background, and then on March 12, shortly before we were due to start previews, Broadway closed down. That was when I began wondering whether we would make it to press night on the 17th, and in fact whether we should.
The first previews went very well, and we were still working hard on getting the show ready for opening. But at the back of our minds we knew that it might have to be postponed. Then on the Monday, Boris Johnson did that awful thing where he said people should avoid public gatherings, but didn’t officially close theatres. We were told by the Royal Exchange team that the show would not be going ahead that night, which was absolutely the right decision.
It really upset me that all the company’s hard work would not get to be shared publicly. The play had really come into its own during previews, and I was so proud of Miranda [Cromwell, the show’s director] and the team. On what would have been press night, we performed for a few people who worked in the theatre. It was an incredible thing to be part of. We had a Zoom party recently to celebrate what would have been the final night.
My hope is that the production will be remounted at some point and people will get to see the company’s beautiful work
Deputy stage manager, was working on previews of Zorro the Musical at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre
The day that the initial restrictions were announced was our day off and I had literally just sent out the rehearsal/show call. We were still in previews and were hoping to go on for a couple more days, but very quickly it became clear that the situation was changing at a dramatic rate. The next day was rescheduled to a company meeting.
That meeting was very emotional, and afterwards we signed programmes and posters for each other and said goodbyes as people headed back to their own homes before the lockdown got stricter. Then we just left; everything is still in the theatre, as it was on what turned out to be our final show.
The first few days were almost like going through a grieving process. The fact the show had ended so suddenly, and before we had even had press night, was really upsetting. We knew we had something special and were excited to continue the run.
The company has stayed very close throughout lockdown. The love we had for this show and for each other will only grow, and feel even better the second time round. I’m sure that first round of applause will bring tears to many eyes, not least mine.