Hampstead and Highgate theatres welcome government rescue package

Set designers have wrapped several theatres including Hampstead Theatre in tape to draw attention to

Set designers have wrapped several theatres including Hampstead Theatre in tape to draw attention to the crisis in the arts during the coronovirus pandemic - Credit: Archant

But John Plews from Upstairs at the Gatehouse said the ‘devil would be in the detail’ as he called for clearer guidance on when they can reopen safely

Jez Bond

Jez Bond - Credit: Archant

Theatres in Hampstead and Highgate have “cautiously” welcomed the Government announcement of a £1.57billion emergency support package to help the arts through the pandemic.

Independent cinemas, music venues, heritage sites, galleries and museums who collectively employ around 700,000 staff, will also benefit from grants and loans to ease them through enforced closure.

However Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden warned that the return of theatre performances without social distancing remains “some way off” and he could not envisage theatres reopening in time for the Christmas season.

John Plews, who runs Highgate’s Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre and is chair of the Society of Indpendent Theatres, was “cautiously optimistic,” about the news.

A past production of 42nd Street at Highgate's Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre

A past production of 42nd Street at Highgate's Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre - Credit: Archant

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“I have spoken to other small theatres and we are pleased the Chancellor has recognised that the arts need to be helped, but the devil will be in the detail. I am apprehensive about how it will be distributed, it’s a huge sum, but there are lots of organisations needing help.”

He added that he has written to Mr Dowden explaining “there is a lot more to it than money” and seeking detailed guidance on when and how they could reopen safely.

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“We can see how to socially distance audiences by putting two seats between them but it’s the cast and backstage - wig and costume fittings - where we need guidance. They’ve managed to work out the rules for footballers to play, but what about actors? They need to touch each other to interact. Money is nice but we don’t just want to keep the building open, we want to develop the productions we want to put on.”

Hampstead Theatre was chosen by set designers as one of the venues to be wrapped in ribbon to highlight the plight of theatres. Executive producer Greg Ripley-Duggan said: “All of us in the sector are delighted by the government’s support package. It will bring much needed relief to many hard-pressed organisations and will help preserve a sector which is a key part of the life of this country – both via its contribution to the well-being and quality of life of the individual as well as via its very substantial contribution to the UK economy.”

At Park Theatre, artistic director Jez Bond has successfully raised more than £400,000 to ensure the Finsbury Park venue can survive closure into Spring 2021. He said: “We are delighted to hear the news of the rescue package for culture, recognising that our world-revered sector plays a vital role in both the economy and the welfare of the nation. We eagerly await further information on the package in the hope that it will support all those who need to weather the the next few months.”

Indhu Rubasingham, artistic director of Kiln Theatre in Kilburn said it was “welcome news”.

“At last a glimpse of hope for a sector brought to its knees. We now have an excellent opportunity, to not only move to recovery, but also to reset, challenge and change to make sure we are better, bolder and revitalised as we look after every moving part that constitutes our complex and deeply inter-dependent eco-system.”

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