Theatres across region face £10 million panto loss

Theatres across the region are set to miss out on a £10 million pay day as pantomimes are cancelled, according to new figures.

Shrewsbury's Theatre Severn
Shrewsbury's Theatre Severn

One of the region’s biggest theatres, Wolverhampton’s Grand, has already called time on its festive show.

Others are still being advertised, including Theatre Severn’s Beauty and the Beast in Shrewsbury and Aladdin at The Place, Telford, while big venues like the Birmingham Hippodrome have already warned their festive shows are in peril.

With social distancing measures in place, it was warned today that many big shows will simply not be viable.

The cost of losing the Theatre Severn pantomime alone is estimated to be around £1 million, a windfall that supports its work through the year.

Theatre bosses say pantomimes will not work financially if theatres have to restrict audiences to 20 per cent of their capacity. Many shows are being cancelled because of the cost and time they take to prepare for the stage.

Cinderella had been due to feature at the Grand Theatre, welcoming more than 60,000 people. But it has been cancelled, a decision CEO Adrian Jackson described as “enormously difficult”.

Birmingham Hippodrome is due to host 73 performances of Goldilocks and The Three Bears with star Jason Donovan. It normally sells 100,000 tickets worth £2 million, but that revenue may be lost.

Mick Corfield, Shropshire’s negotiating officer for the entertainment union BECTU said: “The panto is never going to open if things stay as they are and the government doesn’t change the social distancing measures.

“Theatres need to be 60 to 70 per cent full just to break even. Then it needs to give confidence to customers to go back in especially families with older people.”

Covid presents ‘greatest-ever’ threat to future of theatres

A “significant proportion” of theatres are expected to close due to the coronavirus crisis, the national advisory body for theatres has warned.

In the first 12 weeks of lockdown in the UK, more than 15,000 theatrical performances were cancelled, with a loss of more than £303 million in box office revenue, according to a report into the impact of Covid 19 by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee. The total loss of income will be some £630m, a joint submission to the committee by the representative bodies for professional theatre across the UK has estimated.

While regional theatres across the West Midlands, Shropshire and Staffordshire look for ways to survive, some of the UK’s biggest attractions in live performance are also on the brink. Theatres Trust, the national advisory body for theatres, said it is concerned that if the Job Retention Scheme is withdrawn without additional support to aid theatres through the transition of reopening, many will not be able to survive. The trust estimates that around a third of theatre charities have less than one month’s reserves and three out of five have less than three months reserves. In the Midlands, theatres in Bromsgrove and Leicester have permanently closed, and the trust anticipates the closure of a significant proportion more.

Shakespeare’s Globe said it faces closure if urgent action is not taken, while the Old Vic warned it expects “extremely serious consequences that could jeopardise the continuity of our institution,” without some form of emergency Government-led relief, extended within the next three months. In written evidence to the committee, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group said 27 of the 31 productions and tours licensed by the group and scheduled to be performed in 2020 across more than 15 countries have been cancelled or postponed since lockdown measures were imposed, including London productions of Cinderella, Evita and The Phantom Of The Opera. The closures equate to £6.2m lost in box office sales each week the theatres remain closed, and a £240,000 loss in average weekly earnings for the group, the evidence added.

The only productions still scheduled to proceed as usual in the next few months are taking place in Japan and South Korea. The Globe, which has operated without public subsidy since opening in 1997, said in written evidence the immediate impact of Covid-19 had been “financially devastating” and “presents the greatest threat to the future” of the theatre.

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