British Theatre 'On The Brink Of Ruin' Without Government Help, Warns Producer Sonia Friedman

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British Theatre 'On The Brink Of Ruin' Without Government Help, Warns Producer Sonia Friedman

Writing in the Telegraph today, leading producer Sonia Friedman - responsible for numerous West End and international hit shows, including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, The Ferryman, Dreamgirls, The Book of Mormon, Sunny Afternoon, King Charles III and Funny Girl - warns that British theatre is "is on the brink of total collapse", unless the Government intervenes to help the industry.

Friedman says: "Without an urgent Government rescue package, 70 per cent of our performing arts companies will be out of business before the end of this year. More than 1,000 theatres around the country will be insolvent and might shut down for good."

Friedman observes that, unless there is significant external support, "arts and cultural organisations will have to spend their reserves until there is nothing left", and will enter administration - as Nuffield Southampton Theatres has already done.

Theatre is not alone in facing the unprecedented challenge of Coronavirus, acknowledges Friedman, however " the problem it is facing is a unique case and painfully simple": theatre companies have had virtually no income since mid-March, and have no way of replacing box office revenue. "Theatre can't offer takeaways. It can't shift its business online, welcome though the streaming of our shows has been."

Friedman estimates that this three-month shutdown has meant £330 million of income lost. What will happen if the closure lasts another six months, or even a year or more? It costs, she says, £30,000 a week to keep a West End playhouse closed.

Friedman points out that "theatre is incompatible with social distancing". Even selling just one seat in six causes problems, since most theatres "need to sell 60 per cent of seats just to survive".

However, theatre is a huge contributor to the UK. Friedman notes that it's worth around £5 billion annually to London's economy alone, and drives other sectors, such as restaurants and retailers, and the tourism sector. It's also a vital part of our cultural landscape - and is a talent pipeline for film and television - plus plays a major role in local communities.

"Our stages will hold the stories that help us collectively process what this country has been through," says Friedman. "Theatres will play a huge part in helping our society - our nation - to heal. Protecting and preserving what we have will cost far, far less than reconstructing it from the ruins. It is time to act."

Read the full article here


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