Regional theatre bosses rally behind Andrew Lloyd Webber to save arts industry

25 June 2021, 14:54 | Updated: 25 June 2021, 15:16

By Emma Soteriou

Regional theatre owners have backed Andrew Lloyd Webber's calls for the government to do more to help the arts industry.

The arts industry is one of the hardest to have been hit by the pandemic, with Lord Lloyd Webber telling LBC earlier: "Public Health England officials don’t have a clue about theatre and how they’re operated."

The Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre estimated that theatres lost nearly £200 million between March 2020 and March 2021.

The performing arts union - Equity - found that 40 per cent of UK theatre workers that had lost their jobs could not claim furlough during the pandemic either.

Read more: ‘Theatre forced off cliff’: Calls grow for Covid events pilot data to be published

Maureen McAllister, operations director at the Palace Theatre in Paignton, Devon joined Lord Lloyd Webber in calls for the results of test events, to prove theatres are safe and help get the industry going again.

"It would be really great to get clarity. It would be really great to understand the picture," she said.

"We've had loads of test cases - we've had loads of operational testing - and it would just be really good to know the facts.

"We are working within every single guideline that we've been set, we are absolutely Covid-secure in this building and we're looking after our audiences.

"But if there are results of these tests cases that have come out, it would be great to see what the results are, so that we know what our next steps are."

"I would support anything that gave us the clarity that we need to be able to take our business forward.

"We are not going to be cavalier - we're going to look after our audiences as we do - but we can't keep operating on 50 per cent capacity.

"And our audiences need a bit more clarity because they can do one thing in a pub and have to do a different thing in a theatre.

"Please, let's see what the results are. Let's see what our next steps are."

Following these calls, the government revealed that “no substantial outbreaks” of Covid-19 were identified following any of the first phase of mass test events.

Read more: 'No substantial outbreaks' of Covid-19 following test mass events

Steve Mannix, executive director at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester - one of the biggest regional touring venues - also supported Andrew Lloyd Webber’s actions.

"I've been watching those scenes on the telly and going 'Why? I don't understand.'

"We've put all of the safety measures in place - every venue across the country.

"I feel for everybody within the sector.

"It does feel a bit strange that, I don't know, 60,000 people can go to the final of the Euros at Wembley, yet we can't get 500 people in our auditorium.

"It's been really hard. We've just about programmed our autumn season, but again, everybody is feeling really, really nervous.

"How can they make sure that everybody is safe on the road?

"What we're asking for is some type of insurance scheme to make sure that those producers do feel confident to be able to produce a show coming out."

Read more: Lord Lloyd Webber tells LBC theatres have been made a 'sacrificial lamb'

That said, some were more willing to wait if it meant theatres would be able to open for good later down the line.

Deryck Newland, the chief executive of Play To The Crowd - the charity behind Winchester’s Theatre Royal - was on the government's side.

"We need to make sure that we can hold the government to account on their promise that this will be irreversible.

"Therefore, I think if they are taking a little bit more time to get it right this time - unlike March 2020, August 2020, October 2020 and even Christmas - then frankly, for the first time, I am on the government's side.

"I think, for the sake of a few weeks, we should just make sure we get this right, so that come September or October, we are not having to go backwards.

He went on to say: "If we then have to go back into some sort of semi-lockdown, or socially distanced capacities through the autumn and towards Panto time at Christmas, that will be a disaster for us.

"I would rather take a short-term hit now in order that we can open fully and without restrictions through to the autumn."