If you believe the rhetoric constantly pushed out in the media by the Government, the poor pandemic has been beaten to a pulp. The 1 million people who are currently afflicted by the virus may question that assertion.
If one believes the spin, the theatre industry in Global Britain should be thriving and a number of positive measures in the Budget will put even bigger smiles on the faces of producers and workers on both sides of the curtain.
While it is increasingly obvious that this government has no interest in the arts and wouldn’t even notice if theatres went dark permanently, there were a couple of crumbs of comfort in a speech that often felt more like a Party Political Broadcast than a serious financial statement.
This was delivered by a man whose title might be Chancellor of the Exchequer but, judging by the expensive designer suits and polished delivery, might better be referred to as Prime Minister in Waiting.
The contrast between Rishi Sunak’s behaviour and demeanour, not to mention costume, and that of the slovenly masked (what a defeat) man sitting directly behind him could hardly have been greater and it is truly just a matter of time.
While one sincerely hopes that two important measures leaked ahead of the speech will not be of relevance to the theatre community, the fear is that either or both could be vital for many.
The reversal of the Universal Credit uplift would have been particularly hard for those affected but there is a sop for anyone lucky enough to find work. That is because a swingeing rate of reduction that removes the majority of earnings for the very low paid has been reduced. As the Resolution Foundation amongst others have been quick to point out, this will not help anyone unlucky enough to be out of work completely.
Secondly, the National Living Wage is increasing to £9.50 per hour with lower rates for younger workers. Sadly, that could be increasingly relevant for far more individuals in the entertainment industry than anyone would like to admit.
There could be genuine delight for some theatre companies in the news that Theatre Tax Relief on production costs is to increase on a short-term basis from 20% to 45% until March 2023 reducing to 30% for a further year. Touring productions benefit from a 5% uplift to each of these figures. However, the mechanism isn’t always easy to implement and in order to benefit it is necessary to spend and that requires funds.
Overall though, this measure will be positive for those who have been hoarding their finances and waiting for the opportunity to launch an exciting and vibrant new show or season. On a similar tack, there are additional reliefs for capital investments, should there be any money available to invest.
Finally, reactions to a limited reduction in business rates for those in various sectors that will include theatre might depend on personal outlook.
The glass half full brigade will be over the moon about a temporary 50% reduction in business rates up to a maximum of £110,000. The glass half empty crew will be bemoaning the fact that they are to be charged business rates at all at a time when their very existence is under threat.
The Pandemic Continues to Hurt
Alongside a series of productions that have either been forced to cancel a number of performances or failed to open at all, there is further bad news for those who like to see the very best of serious drama on West End stages.
Leopoldstadt, which should have been one of the best and most successful straight plays of the current season, has cut its run slightly short, where in the normal course of events it would have been expected to extend through to Christmas.
Its biggest competition for the top, new heavyweight play of the autumn was The Mirror and the Light. This should have been a sure-fire winner, having been adapted from Hilary Mantel’s extraordinarily successful novel and following the popularity of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Regrettably, the RSC is also closing this one early, having originally planned an extension into the New Year.
This is clearly in part down to slow sales, which are themselves a consequence of the pandemic. However, it is telling that, despite the government’s much self-lauded insurance scheme that was supposed to help the cultural sector but is of no help to theatres, the RSC fears the danger of further pandemic closures this winter against which no insurance is available.
We all have to believe that, despite these problems and incipient inflation, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The unknown at the moment is the length of that tunnel.