Entertainment & Arts

Theatre and music figures say roadmap is 'meaningless' without support

Man walking past theatre poster saying "We'll be back soon" outside the Sondheim Theatre in London Image copyright AFP

A government roadmap for the return of live theatre and music has been met with calls for financial support and a timetable for reopening, with many dismissing the plan as inadequate.

The five-step roadmap did not come with dates or monetary help attached.

Actors' union Equity said that without investment to save jobs and venues, such guidance "will be meaningless".

Birmingham Hippodrome and UK Theatre head Fiona Allan said it was "of no practical benefit" without a timescale.

"We need dates to work towards in order to plan properly or more jobs will be lost and more venues and companies close," she wrote. "How is this not clear?"

Venues have been shut since March, with many warning that they will go out of business in the coming months without support.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Dowden said the roadmap "provides a clear pathway back"

A government spokesperson said: "We want to get the performing arts fully back up and running safely as soon as possible and are working closely with the sector on a phased approach, guided by public health and medical experts."

The arts have been supported by loans, grants, the furlough scheme and a £160m Arts Council England emergency package, and the government is "considering ways in which we may be able to support it further on top of the unprecedented financial assistance we have already provided", the spokesperson said.

On Thursday, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden published the five-stage plan for a "phased return", which will initially let performances take place outdoors, with indoors performances to follow later.

  • Stage One - Rehearsal and training (no audiences and adhering to social distancing guidelines)
  • Stage Two - Performances for broadcast and recording purposes (adhering to social distancing guidelines)
  • Stage Three - Performances outdoors with an audience plus pilots for indoor performances with a limited distance audience
  • Stage Four - Performances allowed indoors/outdoors (but with a limited distanced audience indoors)
  • Stage Five - Performances allowed indoors/outdoors (with a fuller audience indoors)

Mr Dowden said he wanted "to raise the curtain on live performances" as soon as possible, and that the roadmap "provides a clear pathway back".

He said: "I am determined to ensure the performing arts do not stay closed longer than is absolutely necessary to protect public health."

Image caption Sir Ian McKellen has given a ray of hope with the news that he will play Hamlet on stage

Despite the lack of an official timetable, on Friday the producers of a musical based on Sleepless In Seattle went ahead and announced its world premiere at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre in London on 1 September.

Sleepless, A Musical Romance will star Strictly Come Dancing winner Jay McGuiness and ex-Girls Aloud singer Kimberley Walsh. Audiences will be socially distanced, temperature checked and required to wear masks.

That news came a day after the announcement that Sir Ian McKellen will play Hamlet at the age of 81, in what was billed as the "first major UK theatre production post-Covid to start rehearsals".

It will be staged at Theatre Royal Windsor, but no opening date has yet been announced.

On Thursday, Leeds theatre company Slung Low staged a rare live performance with an audience. The children's show took place outdoors, with the performers on the back of a truck and families watching from tents.

Image copyright Theatre Royal Plymouth
Image caption Theatre Royal Plymouth has warned it could cut 110 of its 350 staff

Earlier this week, the Newcastle Theatre Royal and Plymouth Theatre Royal became the latest theatres to announce job cuts.

Welcoming the government roadmap, Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatres and UK Theatre, said it was "essential" to have indicative dates for each stage.

"Otherwise with no information at all, theatres and producers will have to assume a worst case scenario and plan to be shut for a long period," he said.

Louise Chantal, chief executive of the Oxford Playhouse, said the plan was "as useful a map as a snakes and ladders board", adding: "We need dates, data and INVESTMENT now!"

Playwright Lisa Holdsworth, chair of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, said "a road map is only any use if you have enough petrol to get you where you need to go".

Matt Trueman, creative associate at Sonia Friedman Productions, which staged shows like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, said: "Destinations without directions - that's not a roadmap, it's a fantasy gap year." He dismissed the plan as "fag packet stuff".

Tom Kiehl, acting CEO of UK Music, which represents the music industry, said: "A roadmap is welcome but we also need a timeline for when live performances can resume.

"Financial help in the form of sector specific support is increasingly needed to stop music businesses from going bust."

Earlier this week, the Music Venues Trust (MVT) published an open letter to the government calling for support to "prevent the closure of hundreds of grassroots music venues".

In response to the roadmap, MVT chief executive Mark Davyd said: "We don't need guidance on how to organise creative activity and connect with audiences, this is what our venues do professionally.

"We need the money to survive the crisis and plan our own route back to full use."

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