Norwich Theatre Royal’s boss has claimed the venue’s box-office staff is being subjected to an increasing amount of “rude and aggressive behaviour” from customers in the fallout from its temporary closure due to Covid-19.
In an open letter to audiences, chief executive Stephen Crocker said the theatre’s team had been “relentlessly” trying to reschedule dates for postponed shows, but confirmed that it is not yet offering “mass refunds” as an option.
The organisation, which comprises the Theatre Royal, Playhouse and studio venue Stage Two, has cancelled all performances until further notice, including the Les Misérables national tour.
In the letter, Crocker said: “I was very disappointed earlier today to receive reports from our box office team of a very small but growing number of instances of rude and aggressive behaviour on the phone from customers and to see a cluster of toxic comments on our social media channels.”
Crocker promised that audiences wishing to have the cost of their ticket refunded instead of transferred to new dates or donated to the theatre would be able to do so “if options to reschedule on any show are exhausted with our touring partners”.
However, Crocker said he wanted to explain to audiences why the theatre was not yet offering customers refunds.
He said the process costs the theatre “significant amounts of money” because of transaction charges, staff time and cost of processing and posting cheques for theatregoers who booked in person and in cash.
“Based on our experience that around 85% of bookers for cancelled performances are happy to simply transfer to new dates, I don’t feel it’s prudent to process mass refunds just yet until we have bottomed-out all possibilities for rescheduling.
“I am happy to share that we just lost 95% of our income going forward due to the need to shut down. In order for me to make sure that our venues can come out of this crisis, I am having to insist that we save on any non-essential costs,” Crocker said.
Like many other theatres, it has launched a campaign for audiences to donate all or part of the value of their ticket to help the theatre financially, as it reveals that it estimates a cost of £1.5 million to recover if the theatre remains closed for more than 12-14 weeks.
Crocker warned that trying to reschedule shows such as Les Misérables was “massively complicated” and urged audiences to have patience as alternative dates were sought.
“I am determined that, if we can reschedule shows, those who had already booked should get first dibs on tickets for those new dates,” he added.
“I hope that the information I have shared will help you understand our current position. I am doing it because I believe knowledge is comforting and that this will give you assurances that we are doing our best for you,” Crocker said.