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Sonia Friedman responds to the closure of British theatres due to Tier 3 restrictions

Monday, 14 December 2020

“London going into Tier Three is yet another blow for British theatre – one it simply cannot afford after a brutal year, and one that both could and should have been avoided.

All the effort and energy, not to even mention the expense, of re-opening shows safely has once again been undercut by a decision that will devastate our industry and its freelance workforce – many of whom have still not received any government support and now face a further loss of employment. All this despite not a single case of infection being linked to a theatre anywhere in the country.

It feels like a final straw: proof that this government does not understand theatre and the existential crisis it is facing. Its short-sightedness is starting to look like serial mismanagement.

Only three months ago, theatres and producers around the country were urged to get shows up and running as part of the government’s so-called ‘Operation Sleeping Beauty.’ Asked to “restore some of the magic of Christmas,” we scheduled performances in good faith and at considerable cost, installing extensive safety measures and operating at almost impossible margins – only to be closed down almost the moment we opened.

Throughout this crisis, producers have made it abundantly clear that theatre cannot simply open and shut like other businesses. Shows take time get open. They cost money to close. Audiences need to book ahead. Artists need to arrange their employment. The government has either not heard or not understood. Our repeated calls for a government-backed insurance scheme have gone unheeded. With every round of closures, our businesses take a massive financial hit.

Theatres and producers, who have collectively lost over £1 billion in revenue since March, now face millions of pounds of additional losses and continued uncertainty for the coming months, destroying confidence in the sector that we have worked so hard to rebuild. Commercial producers - the sector’s biggest employers and largest economic contributors - have received just 0.8% of the £1.57 billion Cultural Recovery Fund.

This latest closure under Tier 3 underlines – unequivocally – the urgent need for a government-backed insurance scheme, as already provided to film and television, for meaningful compensation to mitigate impending losses incurred by productions forced to close, and for targeted support for freelance workers unable to take advantage of the furlough scheme.

The government must acknowledge that its short-sighted advice has made our mess a whole lot worse.”

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