The arts in Britain stand "on the brink of ruin", Nicholas Hytner has said, as he called on the government to act now and save the sector.
The former National Theatre director, who now runs London’s Bridge Theatre, said help must be confirmed soon to avoid "wave on wave" of job losses and closures, and that without it, every part of the theatre ecology risks being damaged beyond repair.
Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, he said: "The entire arts sector is on the brink of ruin. That’s not just theatre, that’s the great institutions, museums all over the country. It’s the independent commercial sector and it’s the vast community of freelance artists that all producers depend on."
The UK’s culture sector needs "massive, unprecedented and immediate investment" in order to survive the pandemic, Hytner said, arguing for the social and economic value that a financial package would generate.
"The good news is that if it happens, and it happens quickly, all sorts of good things will follow, because we’re full of incredible inventive people who’ll find a way of performing safely if the investment is there. We’re ready to bring life and joy back to communities all over the country but we do need government to act now – this month.
"The word is, that the chancellor gets it. I’m really hopeful that is so. Honestly without it, you can expect wave on wave of not just redundancies, but bankruptcies," Hytner said.
Job losses have already been proposed at several major theatres and theatre companies – including a significant number of potential redundancies at the National Theatre – with organisations warning they only have enough reserves to last months.
According to the Society of London Theatre, 70% of theatres will have run out of money by the end of the year.
He said theatres need to know now whether they will be able to reopen in time for Christmas, when many organisations "make the money at the box office that sustains them through the rest of the year".
Hytner warned that large-scale theatre, as well as opera and ballet, are unlikely to return "until the other side of social distancing", but said employers must be supported financially until that time in order to avoid irreversible damage.
Hytner was speaking ahead of the broadcast of a BBC remake of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, on which he is lead director and producer.
The remake, filmed during lockdown, stars actors including Jodie Comer, Martin Freeman, Lucian Msamati, Imelda Staunton and Kristin Scott Thomas, who also appeared on The Andrew Marr Show.
She too appealed for support to help theatres weather the crisis, and said the performing arts "really are the heart of our culture".
"People come from all over the world to come to the theatre in London. You go to any theatre foyer in the West End and you’ll hear a multitude of other languages, and people who have crossed the world to come and see this show, this musical.
"[Theatre] really is a fantastic place of nurture for performers, and it’s really important to keep this alive, otherwise our entire performing arts culture will just disappear," she said.