Entertainment & Arts

Coronavirus: Two Theatre Royals, two cities, two job warnings in two days

Newcastle Theatre Royal
Image caption Newcastle Theatre Royal: "When we reopen we will be in a changed world"

The Theatre Royal in Newcastle has followed its namesake in Plymouth in making a redundancy announcement as the arts world grapples with the fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic.

The venues are 400 miles apart and are not linked, apart from sharing a name.

On Tuesday, the Devon theatre warned that 100 of its 350 jobs were at risk.

A day later, the Newcastle venue said it had taken the "the very difficult and heartbreaking decision" to make 44 of its 89 staff redundant.

A further 13 will work on reduced hours and pay, with the remainder put on a retainer.

On Tuesday, the government ruled out the return of live performances during the latest phase of the easing of lockdown in England.

Theatres and music venues are pleading for further official guidance and financial support to see them through the closure.

'Unfortunate inequality'

"We have had no performances and no income for three months, we have no funding to support us and we have no guidance about when we will reopen," said Newcastle Theatre Royal chief executive Philip Bernays.

"Faced with this uncertainty we have to do everything we can to secure the future of Newcastle Theatre Royal. When we reopen we will be in a changed world and as an organisation we need to be ready for this."

Unlike many theatres, the Newcastle venue does not get annual Arts Council England (ACE) funding so cannot access its emergency funding.

On Tuesday, the MPs representing five cities with theatres outside the ACE stable - Birmingham, Canterbury, Newcastle, Norwich and Southampton - wrote to culture minister Caroline Dineage to ask for help with the "unfortunate inequality".

However, the Newcastle Theatre Royal has said it is hoping to reopen on 24 November, and its pantomime is still scheduled to go ahead.

Image copyright Theatre Royal Plymouth
Image caption The Theatre Royal Plymouth is one of the biggest producing houses outside London

The Plymouth panto is also currently still on. "We're sitting on over £500,000 worth of advance sales for our pantomime and we're ready to go with that," chief executive Adrian Vinken told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Wednesday.

"All we need is some confidence that we'll be safe and able to open then."

Venues will only get back to normal, he said, when social distancing "is a thing of a past and people feel comfortable and able to return safely to the theatre". The "sheer economics of large-scale theatre just don't work" otherwise, he added.

After the Plymouth announcement, James Graham, the playwright behind ITV drama Quiz, warned that the country's "world-beating cultural landscape is in collapse".

Lauren Walsh, who works at the venue as a production assistant, meanwhile, wrote a Twitter thread saying she "can't see any way of remaining in the industry".

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said they were "doing all we can to support the sector through government grants, loans, the furlough scheme and the Arts Council's £160m emergency response package".

They added: "We are working with the sector to get it fully back up and running as soon as possible and considering ways in which we may be able to support it further in addition to this unprecedented financial assistance."

Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, who is chair of another Theatre Royal - Stratford East, in east London - warned on Wednesday that venues would take "irrevocable decisions" about staff cuts if a support package was not announced within the next 10 days.

Christine Payne, general secretary of actors' union Equity, called on Mr Dowden and chancellor Rishi Sunak to "urgently bring forward an investment plan for the sector to protect jobs and workplaces".

After meeting the DCMS on Wednesday, she said: "It is crystal clear that the majority of our workplaces and the people who work in them will need ongoing financial support for the months ahead."

Other venues to have warned about redundancies include Birmingham Hippodrome and the Wales Millennium Centre.

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