Helen Mirren has become the latest high-profile figure to call for major investment to prevent the arts from collapsing.
She follows the likes of Judi Dench, who appeared on Channel 4 news last week to warn of the threat to theatre and the arts.
Mirren compared theatre’s cultural importance in the UK to the importance of Venice to Italians and said urgent investment was needed to save it.
“I was thinking in a way it’s a what Venice is to Italy. When Venice becomes flooded Italy pulls together to save it as they understand its importance. I feel the same about theatre in Britain,” she told Radio 4’s Today programme.
Speaking about theatre’s importance to the UK, she said: “What is at stake is the loss of cultural history and an identity of our nation, which is imbedded in what it means to be British. One of the great contributions that our country has made to the world is through theatre and writing and performing. It’s one of the reasons many tourists come to Britain.”
She added her career had been “always been based in theatre”.
“I love the art form of film but at least every two or three years I have made the effort to come back to theatre. Honestly it’s where your artistic creativity can really be realised, in a much more profound way than film. In theatre you and the audience are one together, and it’s such a personal experience.”
She backed calls for more guidance for when theatres can reopen and an investment package to help keep the industry in business.
“They need guidance and investment – they need huge investment really quickly because they are collapsing,” she said.
Mirren also said she had been due to do a play in London in January but it would no longer be happening.
“Until there is a vaccine that kind of performance is going to be very difficult,” she warned, but added the theatre was full of people with “imagination and creativity” who were already finding ways of “being creative and performing”.
Mirren appeared on the programme after Labour leader Keir Starmer, who said there needed to be an extension to the government’s furlough scheme to help businesses beyond October, when it comes to an end.
“The cliff edge for sectors that aren’t going to be able to cope by October and November means many people will lose their jobs when they don’t need to. Good businesses will go bust,” he said, adding: “We supported the furlough scheme by the way, but we have to recognise now different sectors will get back to a degree of normality at different speeds – and some won’t manage by October/November and we should continue support for them so jobs are not lost.”
Last week, culture secretary Oliver Dowden outlined a roadmap for reopening theatres which was met with dismay by the industry because of its lack of clarity.