After the darkness comes the light; after the winter, the spring. So yes, with the snowdrops and crocuses blooming and the roadmap out of lockdown published, there are some grounds for optimism. I know I risk sounding like a curmudgeon (such a lovely juicy word, curmudgeon) when so many are dancing a jig of joy on social media at the news, but I’m holding off popping the cork on the Santagen Tonic Wine until we have a little more clarity. Although, Great Aunt Cecily does have all her fingers and toes crossed, and theatre is in a far better place than it has been because at last there is hope.
My colleague Alice Saville has already made the excellent point that the government roadmap actually includes plans for theatre’s reopening, whereas previously it has tended to be excluded and forgotten, as if its reopening was an insurmountable problem that the government simply couldn’t get its head around, or dismissed as unimportant. At least now theatre is on the map, alongside the hospitality industry. Prior to last Monday’s announcement that was by no means certain.
In fact, hot on the heels of the Roadmap announcement, Nica Burns of the Nimax group announced that she would be opening all six of her West End theatres at the earliest possible date, May 17, when there will still be social distancing. Brave woman. Other producers, in both the West End and the subsidised sector, are showing more caution, and who can blame them after getting their fingers burned in the Autumn of last year?
But we are in a very different place than we were before Christmas, with infection rates falling, the vaccination programme going well, warmer weather on the way and surge testing keeping variants in check.
This is all excellent news for theatre, but there are still some unexplained questions around the roadmap. Not least the odd exclusion of outdoor theatre, which should surely be able to reopen at the same time as pub gardens. Or the fact that if you are, say, the National Theatre and decide to run performances from late May with social distancing, if you hold a performance on Saturday 19th of June it would have to be at 50 per cent capacity whereas your performance on Monday 21st of June could be at full capacity. I don’t know, nobody does, but I suspect the move from socially distanced auditoria to usual capacity may end up further regulated. Testing and maybe vaccine passports could well play a part.
There remain issues about the support of theatre that urgently need addressing including financial support for workers over the next four months (including furloughing), the applications of the Cultural Recovery Fund, and insurance and VAT schemes to ensure that theatre is in the best possible position to help reboot the economy and give people chance to dream and laugh and cry together as so many of us yearn to do again.
There is a great deal that can yet happen between now and June, both good and bad, but theatre is in a far, far better place than it was this time last week, and it and its workforce have proved themselves hugely resilient. June 21 may be the key date, but if takes until late summer or early Autumn for theatre to be open, fully operational and welcoming audiences back for good, that would still be a result worth cheering.
You can find our breakdown of the Government roadmap here.