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More shows will close and not reopen, UK Theatre chief warns

Her Majesty’s Theatre in Haymarket, London, which used to show The Phantom Of The Opera before it closed because of the coronavirus pandemic (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Her Majesty’s Theatre in Haymarket, London, which used to show The Phantom Of The Opera before it closed because of the coronavirus pandemic (Jonathan Brady/PA)

More shows will close and not reopen and more theatres will go out of business, the chief of the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre has warned.

Producer Cameron Mackintosh has confirmed that the West End production of The Phantom Of The Opera has permanently closed, while the Theatre Royal in Plymouth and the Theatre Royal in Newcastle are among the venues announcing plans to make redundancies and Southampton’s Nuffield Theatres will close its doors for good.

UK Theatre chief executive Julian Bird told the PA news agency: “Our statistic at the very start of this was that around 70% of theatre productions said they would run out of money by the end of the year.

“Now of course some things have helped that – the furlough scheme has helped to some extent to some people, the fund from the Government that is due to distribute will help some others – but that won’t help everybody so we are in a perilous situation.

“We will see more theatres go out of business and we will see more shows close and not reopen. Our aim is to try and minimise that, to the best of our ability, but we will see more, there is no doubt.”

Writing in the Evening Standard on Tuesday, Mackintosh said: “Andrew (Lloyd Webber) and I have had to sadly permanently shut down our London and UK touring productions of The Phantom Of The Opera, but are determined to bring it back to London in the future.”

However, in a statement on Twitter, Lord Lloyd-Webber said: “As far as I’m concerned Phantom will reopen as soon as is possible.”

Mr Bird said the longer theatres are closed, the more precarious their position becomes.

He added: “We’ve gone since March with no income into theatre, so the longer that goes on the more this puts in jeopardy both theatre and their actual venues, but also productions that we know and love. No business can survive on no income for long.”

Theatres will be permitted to stage indoor performances with social distancing from August 1 but Mr Bird said this will change “pretty much nothing” because it will not be financially viable.

He said: “For some smaller theatres with long-running shows like The Mousetrap, they believe they can just about make it work to break even. This isn’t about making money, but for any show of scale or theatre of scale, it can’t.

“And the test at the Palladium last week, the pilot with Beverley Knight, just showed that is the case. You can’t operate a show with social distancing in place and make it economic, it just doesn’t work.

“Assuming it goes ahead, you can have indoor performances with social distancing from Saturday August 1 and people will say ‘What will be reopened?’, and unfortunately the answer is pretty much nothing, which is the reality, as we have always explained.

“Now, great, there will be some outdoor theatre over this summer and places like Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre are going to manage to do some activity, but once again with about 30% of the audience.”

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