Phoenix Arts Club has become one of the first victims of changes to a planned reopening date for indoor performances, revealing it will remain closed until more certainty is offered.
It criticised the “unacceptable” government decision to order theatres to remain closed the day before they were due to reopen.
While it was preparing to reopen on August 1, the London venue’s team had been deep-cleaning, working on on staffing, show preparation, booking artists and buying in stock. The Phoenix said it had spent “considerable sums” on risk assessments, marketing and advertising.
All the venue’s shows from August 1 had sold out – at 30% capacity to allow for social distancing.
It said it would now be forced to remain closed until it is certain that indoor live performance is permitted, adding that the government’s short-notice decision had "pulled the carpet from under us".
The comments from managing director Ken Wright follow an announcement from prime minister Boris Johnson earlier today (July 31) that due to an increase in coronavirus cases across the UK and Europe, venues would not be allowed to begin performances from August 1 as previously indicated.
Johnson said the changes had been postponed by at least a fortnight.
Responding to the news, Wright said: “The government decision to postpone opening of live performance venues with 24 hours’ notice has pulled the carpet from under us.
“We’ve said all along that we would ‘open once and open well’, therefore with heavy heart and broken bank balance we must announce that we will remain closed until we are certain that indoor live performance is permitted.”
He said a ticketed industry “requires at least a four-week lead time” and described it as unacceptable to be ordered to close the day before reopening.
He added: “Unlike walk-in businesses such as a bowling alley or casino, the government needs to realise the full context of closing down a ticketed live-performance business with such short notice.
"While we accept that measures should be taken to reduce new coronavirus cases, we urge the government to take into consideration the vast amount of work that goes into preparing a live show and we request that the next set of dates is not committed to unless there is confidence that these will be definite.”
Wright said the decision had left it “uneasy about preparing for a reopening until the government can guarantee - rather than ‘consider’ a firm opening date”.
The managing director said that he hoped customers would be willing to transfer their tickets to future performance, and urged people to donate to a Crowdfunder campaign to raise money for the Phoenix.
Entertainment union BECTU also responded to news about the postponement, calling on the government to make theatre employers exempt from having to make contributions to the furlough scheme and to set up a specific fund for freelancers.
BECTU national secretary Noel McClean said: “Theatres are already dealing with huge uncertainty and this announcement will only cause more pain and suffering for the workforce.
“What the industry needs is certainty, without it redundancies and lay-offs will continue.
“This announcement will have a huge impact on the psyche of everyone who relies on the theatre industry for their livelihood.”
McClean added: “The government has said that this postponement will be for a fortnight, but we know the pandemic is a fast-moving situation and this could change again.
“What this announcement demonstrates is that theatre employers should be exempt from making contributions to the furlough scheme and that a specific fund must be set-up to support theatre freelancers.
“The arts recovery funding is still months away and clearly there are significant hurdles on the road to theatres re-opening again.”