We are at a point where many British theatres have reached the brink of extinction, following failures by the government to provide support that is either at a satisfactory level or timely.
As the furlough scheme peters out, readers can expect to see a flood of announcements about redundancies, swiftly followed by permanent closures, as theatre companies discover that they are receiving no government funding or the amounts available are insufficient to keep them going.
This week, two companies at opposite ends of the spectrum have sent out press releases detailing their plights.
The Finborough Theatre in London’s Earl’s Court punches far above its weight and has long been a favourite with theatre critics, thanks to the excellent programming by successive artistic directors, first Phil Wilmott and, more recently, Neil McPherson.
On a shoestring budget, the theatre has combined imaginative revivals of plays that did not deserve to be forgotten with new writing, championing many playwrights who have gone on to great things, including Mark Ravenhill, Conor McPherson and more recently James Graham.
However, after 40 years, the pub theatre may soon be no more than a historical memory, unless funding applications and a new Crowdfunder appeal as part of Theatres Trust’s #SaveOurTheatres campaign—a national fundraising initiative to prevent the permanent closure of UK theatres—come up trumps.
While this would be a tragedy for actors, backstage and creative workers and, most of all, audience members who have loved the venue, there seems little doubt that the government couldn’t care either way.
It therefore becomes imperative that supporters are found to help the Finborough to survive. In the best of all possible worlds, it should be able to resume producing new plays every month when social distancing laws permit, along with a revival of the now defunct Monday / Tuesday shows that worked on an even tighter budget but presented opportunities for young writers and directors to strut their stuff.
While the theatre is dark, fans have an opportunity to remind themselves of recent productions via the Finborough Theatre YouTube channel.
Many may be saddened but far from surprised to learn that an obscure pub theatre, however good, is struggling at the moment. It comes as much more of a chastening shock to learn that Capital Theatres, which runs staples on the Edinburgh International Festival circuit, the King’s Theatre, the Festival Theatre and The Studio, is also struggling.
Indeed, so desperate are its supporters that they have written an open letter (printed below) to Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon informing her that the prospect of increasing loan exposure by £250,000, the only funding being offered, is unacceptable and unless something else can be found, the current crisis could well lead to the end of the road for these distinguished venues.
Theatre lovers were offered a modicum of hope earlier in the week, when the Culture Minister Oliver Dowden hinted at something exciting just around the corner.
It isn’t absolutely clear (as there have been rumours of an equivalent to the cheap meal scheme for theatres) but it seems reasonable to assume that one of the projects he had in mind was the Prime Minister’s Moonshine announcement.
In fact, although that would be a more obvious title given past performance, he and Health Secretary Matt Hancock have been enthusing about an ambition called Moonshot.
This is their latest promise that will almost certainly remain unfulfilled. At present, the government is unable to adequately provide tests for around 175,000 people, sending them to the ends of the earth (although not yet the moon) for testing and then failing to process the results anyway.
Quite why, in this light, the government imagines that it can upscale this to 10 million tests per day within six months is beyond the understanding of this writer.
The idea is that, if everyone going into a theatre can be tested instantly and shown to be clear, with a guaranteed accuracy rate of close to 100%, life can get back to normal.
As was pointed out by the venerable Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter from Cambridge University, even if by any chance the system works, it will need to be so safe that there will be vast numbers of false-positives, meaning that many theatregoers (and presumably their companions) would literally be sent home directly from the theatre foyer.
Indeed, the only obvious upside that one can immediately identify is, having run out of pretty much everyone on earth to blame for the government’s impending failure, someone new has been brought into the frame—the man in the moon.