Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sharon D Clarke, Andrew Scott and Marianne Elliott are among nearly 100 theatre figures throwing their weight behind calls for the government to intervene and prevent the industry being destroyed by the coronavirus crisis.
Actors, writers, directors and designers nominated for this year’s Olivier Awards and winners of the 2019 UK Theatre Awards have signed a letter to Boris Johnson, culture secretary Oliver Dowden and chancellor Rishi Sunak, which makes clear the threat to the UK’s performing arts.
“We are concerned that British theatre is on the brink of ruin. Theatre is one of the UK’s most dazzling success stories. In all its forms, whether drama, musical theatre, opera or dance, British theatre is a world-class cultural and economic force with productions filling venues from Broadway to Beijing,” the letter, published in the Guardian, says.
“The pandemic has brought theatre to its knees. Theatres do not have the money to operate viably with physical distancing. It is difficult to see venues opening before the end of the year,” they say, warning that 70% of the country’s theatres will have run out of money by the end of the year.
Cameron Mackintosh has already confirmed that his West End productions, including major shows such as Hamilton and Les Misérables, will not reopen before 2021.
The list of 98 signatories includes actors Arinzé Kene, Hayley Atwell, James McAvoy, Juliet Stevenson, Miriam-Teak Lee, Wendell Pierce and Toby Jones. Directors including Emma Rice, Jamie Lloyd, Matthew Warchus and Robert Icke are also on the list, together with writers including Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Tom Stoppard and Lucy Prebble, and choreographer Matthew Bourne.
The Society of London Theatre, UK Theatre, BECTU, Equity, the Musicians’ Union, the Independent Theatre Council and Live Comedy Association have also backed the letter.
They demand the government urgently consider the sector’s request for a support package, warning that “without government investment, theatres will be forced to close and may never return”.
“The threat of British theatre being destroyed by accident is as real as it is bleak. It would not only be a spiritual tragedy but an economic one,” the letter says.
SOLT and UK Theatre’s proposals for government intervention include an extension to the furlough scheme and additional support for the freelance workforce, as well as an emergency relief fund and adaptations to existing schemes such as Theatre Tax Relief.
It also calls for the creation of a cultural investment participation scheme, through which the government would invest in theatre and would be able to reap a return.
Their pleas come shortly after the publication of research that found that the UK’s creative industries stand to lose about £1.4 billion per week during 2020, with more than 400,000 jobs at stake as a result.
The report suggests that the UK’s creative sector will be hit harder than many others by the pandemic – and twice as hard as the wider economy.