The original plan had been to devote this week’s column to an upbeat review of a new online offering. However, given political developments over the last week, yet again the ravages of coronavirus have delayed that project by seven days.
At face value, the announcement during the week that all of the Plan B measures were to be eliminated must have sounded like wonderful news for society but also theatres and those who love to visit them. We will have that much touted “freedom” to work where we like, shop where we like and sit both on public transport and in auditoria up and down the country without the impediments of face coverings. What could be better?
For once, the answer is blazingly obvious to everyone except for a handful of politicians who, tragically for the rest of us, happen to be in power at the moment. The obvious indication of how wrong they are getting it is the more cautious behaviour of their peers across the world.
The pandemic is still raging in the United Kingdom with over 108,000 people falling ill on the day of the announcement and that is using a government measure that deliberately suppresses the figure. In addition, approximately 20,000 people were in hospital and the annualised death rate remains in excess of 100,000. If that is what elimination of coronavirus looks like, then the scientific experts who claim to understand these matters must feel very stupid.
It has been suggested in much of the media that this latest knee-jerk reaction was arranged by somebody who increasingly gives the impression of being at least temporarily deranged (not unlike a former President of the United States) and, at very least, shows many of the characteristics of a well-heeled confidence trickster.
Rather than accepting the inevitable and admitting that he has not only behaved improperly and then attempted to cover it up but also lost the support of his own party, let alone the country, Mr Johnson keeps squirming around throwing out flashy policies in an effort to save his job and skin.
We can all debate whether his behaviour in connection with the departure from Europe has trashed the economy and, even more shockingly, his actions and inactions have led to the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of his country’s citizens. However, this latest step is also likely to be very harmful, literally costing lives and jobs. It could also be the death knell for many businesses that were already on the edge but might have survived with more judicious decision-making by those in power.
Our immediate concern must be that this will include theatres. They are already continuing to go through a terrible time as a result of 18 months of pandemic disaster followed by the current uncertainty following the arrival of the new coronavirus variant. As everybody who has any interest in the topic was already be aware, shows are being cancelled at short notice as a result of illnesses and isolation demands. In addition, visitors have been wary, to say the least.
Without wishing to generalise, the typical theatregoer tends to be relatively conservative and quite elderly. Telling someone with this profile that they will now be obliged to sit in a crowded theatre in which nobody is obliged to wear a mask is likely to be akin to asking whether they would like to get their money back directly or by way of a rain-check ticket for a date when life really has normalised.
Even if people are still willing to visit theatres, once the Omicron variant of coronavirus is allowed to spread via public transport, untrammelled mixing in pubs, clubs and even theatres, not to mention sports stadia, it seems inevitable that far more people will get sick, meaning that even higher numbers will then be obliged to self-isolate.
In those circumstances, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that theatre cancellations will escalate to even more terrifying levels. From there, some companies will find that having reached a rocky financial situation already, the economics of survival become untenable.
If all of that wasn’t bad enough, you can already hear the culture secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer each gleefully announcing that since there are no longer restrictions on theatres and other cultural institutions, no further coronavirus support funding will be available.
Next week, this column really will be more upbeat.