There’s a great deal of activity going on in UK theatre at the moment, but it is hard to tell whether times are good, bad or just uncertain.
While many theatres are opening or announcing dates to reopen, there is little unity in terms of policies and progress.
Some theatres are opening up at 100% capacity, while others are still maintaining social distancing and other precautions. Regrettably, nobody is keeping an up-to-date register, which means that the only way of discovering whether a particular show is likely to have a packed crowd who may choose to divest themselves of masks or a small, select audience invested in taking the greatest care is to find out on an individual basis.
Even then, it appears that a significant proportion of shows have been forced to close for various reasons connected to coronavirus and that seems likely to continue in the short to medium term, even accepting that the government has tweaked its faulty tracking app.
London Theatre Week
In an attempt to tempt more people to come back to the theatre, TodayTix has reintroduced its London Theatre Week. This venture has lived through tempestuous times, having started in 2019, continued last year and now faces the third set of tricky circumstances as it runs from 23 August to 5 September.
Although it is giving the impression of being a wonderful giveaway, to some, this elongated week may look rather more like a marketing exercise from the ticket discounting company.
They promise that this year’s version is bigger and better than ever, featuring no fewer than 45 shows, many of which look really attractive.
That begs an obvious question as to why shows that could be selling out anyway would want to offer discounted tickets. A quick check suggests that the numbers of tickets at prices between £15 and £35 will be strictly limited, since on many dates for a sample of shows none is available.
However, those in search of a bargain to see some of the best shows in town including mega hits like Anything Goes and Come from Away could do worse than check out the site.
We shall have to see how life unfolds over the next few months, but there has to be a chance that many theatrical ventures will be offering more discounts in an attempt to attract punters at a time when some will be reluctant to visit West End theatres, while tourists will be very few and far between.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe
The most chilling news of the week arrived slap bang in the middle of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Having been obliged to abandon the project completely in 2020 and running with only about 20% of the normal number of shows this year, one of the world’s premier arts festivals appears to be in dire straits.
The Fringe Society has launched a £7½ million emergency survival appeal. That money is needed in addition to all of the funding that it has received from various local authority bodies.
If an article in the Guardian is accurate, with only one week to go, the Fringe had sold only 12,500 digital performance tickets. To put this into perspective, a single show at one of the biggest venues would sell this number during the normal three-week run and probably charge higher prices to boot.
Without wishing to pile on the agony, the failure to face the facts and either move the whole of the 2021 Fringe onto a digital platform six months ago or alternatively cut losses and start preparing for a bumper 2022 has undoubtedly contributed to a situation where costs have been incurred with little or no chance of recoupment.
As so often this year, we are obliged to accept that, while the worst might be over, there could be further troubled times ahead for our beloved cultural medium. However, with vaccines proving to be reasonably effective and time offering a better understanding of the dynamics, surely 2022 really will be the theatrical nirvana for which we have all been hoping and praying.