It seemed too good to be true when almost any whole week had passed without dramatic news about the theatre industry from either the government or a parliamentary committee.
Indeed, a column was drafted exploring a form of escapism that might have put current worries aside for a few minutes.
However, in the nick of time, the government announced last night that its shelved plans to allow indoor private performances to take place have been resurrected with effect from tomorrow.
Before readers get too excited if, like BTG’s editor David Chadderton, they live in Manchester or any other area subject to additional lockdown restrictions, the new relaxations will not apply.
Just before and just after the change was confirmed, a couple of big hitters announced that they would be entering the fray.
First, Sir Nicholas Hytner and the Bridge Theatre sent out a release revealing proposals to reopen in September and October with a new stage version of Alan Bennett’s recently televised Talking Heads. Tickets could be hard to come by with a socially distance audience limited to 250 seats at each performance.
In order to reassure those who might already have been stung by theatres that were unable to refund sums paid for tickets to performances that were cancelled or requested that these be commuted into vouchers for future performances, the Bridge confirmed that automatic refunds would be made in relation to any performance that did not go ahead.
The National Theatre, which has recently announced mass redundancies, is also entering the fray in late October with the proposed staging of Death of England: Delroy, a solo sequel to Death of England written by Clint Dyer and Roy Williams to be performed by Giles Terera.
Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre, eloquently explained that: “this week Death of England: Delroy will have its first workshop as we finally, carefully open the doors of the theatre to artists and put in place plans to start live performance again this autumn. Clint Dyer and Roy Williams have delivered another explosive piece of work; set during lockdown and charting its own fearless and provocative course through the same subjects as its prequel, and a very English reflection of the Black Lives Matter movement.
"It is so important for us to be welcoming artists back into the building again, and planning for doing the same for our much-missed audiences. The moment the incomparable Giles Terera steps out on the Olivier stage at that first performance will be an incredible one, and I’m thrilled to be reopening our theatre with such an important and timely piece of work.”
We all have to pray that these ventures will be a success, given the uncertainty of life in Britain today. After all, there has already been one false start on the theatre front, with performances pulled at the last minute a fortnight ago.
To put this into context, at the same time as the latest reopening announcement for theatres and other indoor venues, yet more quarantine changes have taken place affecting holidaymakers and business folk in France, the Netherlands and elsewhere, while the virus appears to be returning with a vengeance across Europe, having never left the United States, India and Brazil. Then there was the exams “fiasco”, with one U-turn and another quite possibly just around the corner.
In addition, theatrical funding is in chaos, with the government’s plans leading to uncertainty and delays of many months before companies will know whether or not they will receive grants or loans and, if so, how much.
In a climate where theatres including our crown jewel, the National, are making large numbers of employees redundant, the respective business teams will need to work very hard in order to justify putting on performances where audiences are unlikely to exceed 30% of capacity when 60% is required to break even. Unless ticket prices are to double, it is hard to see how this can make commercial sense, whichever way you look at the figures. Indeed, even that may not be enough as costs are likely to skyrocket in order to ensure that safety precautions are fully implemented.
As if all of that wasn’t risky enough, the chances of finding an insurance company that will be willing to accept a sensible premium to cover the possibility of a show being cancelled at the last minute, quite possibly through no fault of the theatre but due to a local lockdown, with massive costs and zero income seem about as likely as those of finding a vaccine that works and immunising the whole country (except the anti-vaxxers) by the end of the year.
It would be nice to think that the worst is behind us but stay tuned for the next instalment of our exciting series, The Government, the Virus and the Theatre, which this writer fears will be required to keep pace with developments in the very near future.