Exclusive: Collapsed Heaven on Earth musical leaves £2.6m debts
Performers, creatives and venues are among those owed an estimated £2.6 million by producers of the collapsed tour of musical Heaven on Earth.
The figure – one of the largest ever in relation to a collapsed theatre production – is revealed in a document sent to creditors by the firm dealing with the production company’s liquidation.
Heaven on Earth, which was to star Kerry Ellis and Hugh Maynard, was cancelled in November three weeks before it was due to open at Arena Birmingham.
The new Christian musical, which was written by Sara Jeffs and was to be directed and choreographed by Racky Plews, had been due to play five months of arena dates across the UK, including the 12,500-seat Wembley Arena.
After the musical was cancelled, it was announced that the production company, Eden International Productions, had gone into administration. At Companies House, the directors of Eden International are listed as Andrew Burt, John Burt, Christine Jeffs, David Jeffs, Sara Jeffs and John Hibbert – who resigned on October 22, 2017.
Many, including cast members and agents, have spoken of their “sad and disappointing” experiences of the tour collapse, and the money they are owed, while Equity said it was important to hold producers to account for “reckless” employment practices.
It has emerged, in the document seen by The Stage, that unsecured creditors – companies and individuals who provided services for the production – have made claims totalling £2,624,295.71.
Those left unpaid are understood to range from cast members and creatives to suppliers and venues. It is understood that the largest amounts of money are owed to arenas that had been due to host the production.
Equity has confirmed its involvement and is in the process of “gathering information” from members who were in the cast.
Equity organiser Paul Fleming said: “This is a highly unusual tour collapse, in that the company has gone into insolvency very quickly. Equity is currently collecting as much information as it can to pursue the company, to make sure that, in the event that there is any money, our members can claim what they are owed.
“Some people think there is nothing the union can do when a non-union contract collapses, but we will always work to make sure everyone gets their pound of flesh, even if we can’t get their pound of cash. What is important is that people are held accountable for reckless employment practices.”
Agent Keddie Scott Associates represents three cast members in the show, who wish to remain anonymous but are collectively owed £4,000, as well as two creatives who are owed an undisclosed but “significant” sum of money.
Managing agent Fiona Keddie-Ord said: “There is only so much you can do to safeguard against this. You have little choice but to trust that a production company is telling the truth when it says a show is financed. When that trust is broken, it’s hard not to be ever more wary going forward.
“There is a delicate balance between protecting the artists but also allowing them to explore what could potentially be excellent career opportunities.”
Keddie-Ord added: “It is important to note that we understand theatre can be a risky business, and that we must support new producers and productions, but it’s one thing for a production to close early due to poor return at the box office. In this case, the production didn’t get close to opening and it seems that an enormous amount of debt was incurred during its short rehearsal period. It’s very sad and disappointing.”
Corporate recovery firm Quantuma is handling the liquidation. Quantuma partner Chris Newell said: “The company has now been formally placed into liquidation and we have received unsecured creditor claims of circa £2.6 million. These claims have not yet been agreed and no verification has as yet been undertaken by the liquidators to agree these figures.”
Newell said that he was still keen to hear from “potential business angels” who might wish to invest in the production, adding: “We continue to liaise with various different parties, and would be keen for the show to be resurrected in some form in the future.”
Heaven on Earth collapse – ‘devastated’ performers respond
Performers involved in the collapsed musical say they feel “conned” by the “devastating” experience, which has left them out of pocket and out of work.
Cast members and an agent have spoken out to reveal that the impact of the cancelled tour goes beyond money, despite several claiming they have had to borrow money to pay their rent, as performers had turned down other jobs to appear in the show.
Equity has accused the producers of the Christian musical of a “moral failing” in not fulfilling their contractual commitments to performers.
Fleming added: “The people who are owed the least are often the people who need it the most.
“When someone makes a contractual commitment to pay them an amount, there is a moral failing if they don’t manage to fulfil the terms of that contract.”
Keddie-Ord said: “The actual amount of money artists/creatives are owed is only scraping the surface.
“These individuals had been turning down other opportunities because they were committed to this one. It’s really frustrating as agents, because this is what you are trying to protect your clients from.”
Ensemble member Tom Brandon said he was owed a total of £1,500 by producers, including £900 in sustenance and a week’s worth of unpaid wages.
“The sad thing about it is that we had a wonderful time rehearsing the show and became such a close unit as a cast,” he said.
“By the time it was called off, we had a great show, which is the real shame. It was devastating.”
Brandon said that he took the job in March, with rehearsals beginning in September, and that he had turned down a number of other opportunities in the interim while he was committed to Heaven on Earth.
He added: “I was unable to take up a lot of other contracts, because I thought I was going to be performing at Wembley Arena, which was a dream come true.
“This was a big break for me, it was going to be my first time being in a big production like that.”
Brandon said the company was liquidated the day before cast members were due to be paid.
He added: “We were expecting that money to come in on the Friday to pay the rent, and were just having to borrow from people.”
Another performer, who wishes to remain anonymous, claimed she was owed almost £2,000.
She told The Stage: “Combined with hard-working actors and creatives, we had a fantastic show. It is a true disgrace that we were all treated with such little value, and that a show on such a huge scale was left to a production company with little experience.”
She added: “It also occurs to me that newer production companies such as Eden International Productions should have a thorough understanding of what it is to produce a show of this scale. Checks and precautions should be put in place to prevent this from happening again.”
A third cast member, who also wished to remain anonymous, claimed he was owed around £650 for the final week of rehearsals.
He said: “It’s horrible and I’m not the only person who feels like this. We feel conned, this is something that should not happen in the industry.
“These people can create companies and come back with another one under a different name. They have saved themselves but left a lot of people in the lurch.”
The anonymous performer and Brandon both claimed that there was “zero marketing” and that cast members were left to take over the social media accounts for the show towards the end of October.