In a week when the industry has been brought to a virtual standstill, we look at the last widespread shutdown of theatres in the UK.
The Stage’s editorial of September 7, 1939 said: “The shadow of the war has fallen swiftly and with a special heaviness on the arts and the industry of the stage. The industry has been brought to a standstill as sudden as it is complete.” This followed the summary closure, as detailed by a Home Office memorandum that said “all theatres, music halls, kinemas [sic] and other places of entertainment” would be closed on the outbreak of war.
The Stage, as well as luminaries such as George Bernard Shaw railed against the government’s decision – the playwright criticised the move as “a masterpiece of unimaginative stupidity” and pointed to the soldiers on leave who needed entertainment.
The Stage’s editorial said: “The need of most of the workers in the industry of the stage is immediate and extreme. This need should have been foreseen when, in the judgement of the government, it became necessary in the public interest to shut down an entire industry.
“There is hope that, shortly, a resumption of entertainments will be allowed… but relief in the meantime is urgent, and the necessity for making provision without delay should be pressed upon the government.”
If you’d like to read more stories from the history of theatre, all previous content from The Stage is available at the British Newspaper Archive in a convenient, easy-to-access format. Please visit: thestage.co.uk/archive