British theatre is on the “brink of total collapse”, according to one of the industry’s most successful producers, who has called for an urgent government rescue package to prevent more than 1,000 theatres from permanently closing.
Sonia Friedman, the producer behind West End hits such as The Book of Mormon and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, made the prediction in an article for the Telegraph , in which she said the performing arts faces “the real possibility of complete obliteration” without substantial government support.
“Without an urgent government rescue package, 70% of our performing arts companies will be out of business before the end of this year,” she wrote. “More than 1,000 theatres around the country will be insolvent and might shut down for good.”
The producer said the loss would be “irrecoverable” and said that without intervention the country would watch as over the next six months “our arts and cultural organisations will have to spend their reserves until there is nothing left”.
She added that many will have no alternative but to enter administration.
Friedman is the latest arts figure to call for more support from the government as theatres begin to make redundancies and enter into administration. On Wednesday,
Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum announced it was going into “hibernation”, with staff being notified their jobs were at risk.
The theatre’s artistic director David Greig said that he had the “stark choice” of either a redundancy process now to reduce our expenditure, or “total closure before Christmas”.
The Lyceum’s announcement followed the Nuffield Southampton and Southport theatres, which both entered into administration because of the impact of Covid-19, while the Royal and Derngate in Northampton, Shakespeare’s Globe and the National Theatre in London warned they would not survive without support.
Friedman warned that the problems for theatres will not stop once lockdown measures are lifted around the country because “theatre is incompatible with social distancing”. She said that as well as the practicalities of creating theatre with actors operating at a distance of two metres from each other, theatres could not implement social distancing measures by reducing capacity and make enough income to cover running costs.
She said: “Most theatres need to sell 60% of seats just to survive. The shortfall is not sustainable. If we want theatres to reopen, they will, for a time, until another solution is found, still need financial support.”
Friedman said her company has shut down and suspended more than 18 productions around the world over the past 10 weeks, and estimates the shutdown has resulted in £330m of income lost for the theatre sector.
“Once gone, British theatre is lost for good,” she wrote. “An ecosystem as intricate and evolved as ours, shaped over 70 years, is beyond price. It cannot be rebuilt from scratch. As of now, without support, it is in grave danger.”