The world at large has undergone a great shock over the last couple of years and its microcosmic relation theatre has found things almost equally difficult.
While the advent of the pandemic has clearly been the most devastating piece of bad news, the cost-of-living crisis and the difficulties caused by a real war in Ukraine and our European departure, which has also sometimes seemed like a war, have hardly helped.
Many have been forced to employ methodology summed up in that clichéd phrase “carry on regardless”. Even so, some significant changes are already evident and others will almost certainly become apparent before too long.
It may take a year or two for everything to shake out, but here is one critic’s attempt to imagine what the British theatre scene could look like by, say, 2025.
Before even starting, we must all sincerely hope that by then coronavirus really will have been conquered by vaccines and maybe even better behaviour. Otherwise, theatres will continue to struggle both socially and commercially.
In some ways, the brave new world could be very much like our own. Who would bet against Hamilton, Phantom of the Opera, Wicked and their ilk continuing triumphant runs? The specifics might be a little vague, but other perennially popular musicals will undoubtedly return to the West End, while still more are likely to tour with considerable success.
Another brand that seems set to last for at least that duration is Mischief Theatre’s “Goes Wrong” sequence, with The Play That Goes Wrong likely to break records in due course and various new offshoots delighting audiences up and down the country and across the globe.
The large subsidised theatres will also plough on, albeit with smaller and smaller budgets and production quality that may suffer as a result. This is likely to mean more co-productions, smaller casts, cheaper sets and less adventurous programming.
There is a proviso here. By the middle of 2025, it is possible that whoever is the next Tory Prime Minister might have lost a general election. As this column has recently reminded readers, governments of any hue apart from bright blue have a greater respect for the arts and a willingness to fund them more generously. However, given the current financial crisis, even a Labour government or coalition may not have anything to spare in the short term.
There are clearly major issues on both sides of the Atlantic at present. While London does not appear to have been hit quite as badly as New York, where eight Broadway shows are closing within a month, the short to medium term outlook is not encouraging. Here, in addition to shows closing during the summer, others have announced that they will not run beyond the beginning of January. This means that there is a real threat of theatres going dark during the coming winter and maybe beyond.
The cost-of-living crisis will also threaten diversity both across workers in the creative sector and on the other side of the curtain. It is a sad fact of life that old, rich people are going to have far more money than anybody else, which should mean that tickets are sold but not necessarily in great numbers by the young or those from minority groups.
Getting work in the sector could also be even tougher, meaning that those who are struggling to establish themselves may be left in an impossible financial position and head for Amazon warehouses to keep food on the table and pay for heat and light.
Last week, this column looked at the difficulties being faced by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This wonderful institution is now 75 years old and must surely continue into the future, but whether it does so in a significantly cutdown form remains uncertain.
So, what will the UK theatre scene look like in the summer of 2025?
- Fewer theatres may be open.
- Ticket prices could be significantly higher.
- Programming may be less adventurous with smaller casts and cheaper productions of old favourites.
- There is likely to be less diversity.
- Audiences could be even older and even greyer.
- We have to hope that coronavirus will be little more than a bad memory by then but that is beyond the industry’s control.
We all know that theatre is indefatigable. It will soldier on until the good times return. Let’s hope that day is not too far off.