As anyone with an interest in the British theatre industry knows, December is a critical month for many venues. That is even more the case after two years in which theatres were largely dark during the most profitable time of the year.
It is often suggested that the Christmas pantomime is the only thing that keeps many regional theatres, and even some in London, going. Nowadays, not only do the traditional pantos bring crowds streaming into theatres but alternative “adult” versions are becoming increasingly popular.
It isn’t just pantomimes either. Many theatres choose the American approach of programming A Christmas Carol to please seasonal visitors and others favour new writing with a seasonal twist.
Beyond the Yuletide offerings, many theatres, particularly in the West End, prefer to stick with standard programming but still expect a boost in sales. The difference this year is that theatres desperately need our help not just to fund their work over the next year but, in many cases, to survive. You only have to look at the closure notices to know that there could be very thin pickings in the New Year.
While many of the headlines over the last few weeks have centred on the English National Opera, which had its funding withdrawn by Arts Council England, apparently because it refused to relocate to a car park in Manchester, other theatres also lost all of their grants overnight.
Obviously, the primary reason to choose a particular night out must be based on the show that is offered. However, for those of us who are spoilt for choice, perhaps this year the theatres that have been completely starved of funding by Arts Council England should get our votes. This will include Oldham Coliseum, the Watermill in Newbury and London theatres such as the Donmar Warehouse and Hampstead.
Having said that, many other theatres including flagships such as the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and the National Theatre have also had support from Arts Council England significantly reduced in real terms and need any help that they can get to ensure a more vibrant future.
Times are hard for all of us and the cost of theatre tickets is becoming (long ago became?) prohibitive. However, if we want the art form to continue and enjoy the idea of seeing challenging plays providing entertainment for diverse audiences, then we need to do our bit to help out.
Most of us do not have the odd million pounds to spare which could guarantee our local theatre’s financial stability the next couple of years. For the rest of us, the most obvious route is to take the family to as many shows as possible during December and beyond. While there, perhaps support the theatre a little more by purchasing add-ons such as food, drink and programmes in the building rather than round the corner.
Also bang the drum for your local theatre with friends, colleagues and anyone else who might enjoy the experience and get hooked.
If the powers that be are not willing to keep theatres alive then, dear friends, once more, we must do our damnedest to fill the breach.