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Salisbury Playhouse audiences down a fifth following Russian spy poisoning

Decontamination work in the area where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found poisoned and unconscious on a bench in Salisbury. Photo: Amani A/Shutterstock

Salisbury Playhouse has seen audiences for some productions drop by a fifth following the Russian spy poisoning attack in March.

A spokeswoman for the theatre said that immediately after the attempted murder of a former Russian double agent and his daughter, concerns were raised about accessibility to the Playhouse and car parking.

She added: “It’s difficult to identify an exact effect on ticket sales, however audiences for some productions were down by as much as 20% compared with the previous year.

“Our audiences are particularly loyal and resilient, however, and have continued to support our productions.”

As part of a new pan-arts organisation called Wiltshire Creative, launched officially this week, the venue has unveiled a major programme of work that its artistic director Gareth Machin said was “vital” to help residents “reclaim their great city”.

Wiltshire Creative brings together Salisbury Playhouse, Salisbury Arts Centre and the Salisbury International Arts Festival.

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Machin told The Stage that the arts were “best placed” to help the city heal from the incident.

He said: “I think [the Wiltshire Creative season] is vital, particularly the work outside of the buildings, as we know that people are concerned about travelling into the city centre. But outside of the areas that are currently cordoned off, businesses are open and the city is very much delivering everything it usually does.

“As this phase of history passes, we need an organisation like Wiltshire Creative to take over the streets again, make it about fun, party, art, and to reclaim those spaces.”

Machin added: “I think there is probably a moment in the future for us to reflect on what has happened, but I don’t think that moment is now. Now is about: ‘Let’s take it back and reclaim our great city.’”

Salisbury MP John Glen concurred that the arts were “what Salisbury needs” to bring people back into the city centre following the attempted murder of a former Russian double agent and his daughter using a Novichok nerve agent.

Glen, formerly parliamentary under secretary of state for arts, heritage and tourism, said: “Over my short, all-too-brief time as the arts minister, I saw the transformative effect of investment in arts, culture and music to lift communities, to enrich the soul and experience of citizens and to have an impact on the economy.

“And, gosh, do we need that now with Salisbury. Novichok hotspots do not make for a good marketing mantra for anywhere.”