Hampstead Theatre: 'A year of suspended animation, disappointment and success'

Roxana Silbert

Hampstead Theatre Artistic Director Roxana Silbert - Credit: Kris Askey

Hampstead Theatre started 2021 in suspended animation – with a 60th anniversary production of a Pinter play on our stage but our doors closed to the public.

During lockdown we had made the decision to reopen with the season of past successes that was planned for Spring 2020, eventually opening The Dumb Waiter in December for fourteen ecstatically received performances… then, on December 16, London moved into Tier 3 and we closed again. As January arrived, we were still hopeful that we might reopen soon…

But, as for everyone else, disappointment followed disappointment, and reopening didn’t happen until May 28. We still stuck to our plans, though The Dumb Waiter became a casualty of the lockdown and never finished its run. But since reopening we have produced 10 major productions – five on our main stage and five in our studio theatre.

This vast range of work, partially supported by the government’s amazing Cultural Recovery Fund, has entertained tens of thousands of people and created employment for hundreds of theatre professionals of all kinds. Plays from every era of the theatre’s history have held the main stage, whilst the studio gave world premieres to new work that took us from Humberside to Zimbabwe to the inside of a young woman’s head.

After a nervous start and socially distanced houses, audience numbers have continued to increase exponentially from production to production. We have remained cautious about Covid – temperature checks and mask-wearing has continued to be mandatory at Hampstead throughout – because audiences are telling us that they feel safer like that.

Rose Design, Hampstead Theatre

Hampstead Theatre in Eton Avenue, NW3 - Credit: Daisy Hutchison

So, we arrive at the end of the year with a bona-fide hit on our main stage - Tamsin Grieg in Alan Plater’s comedy Peggy For You directed by Richard Wilson – and in the studio the world premiere of Folk, an exhilarating new play with songs by Nell Leyshon about Cecil Sharp in Somerset in 1904.

Hampstead Theatre has been fortunate to suffer less than many organisations. We were in a strong financial position when the pandemic arrived, and our philanthropic supporters have stood by us throughout, so we made no redundancies and could even offer support to our freelance teams. We certainly aren’t unscathed, but we are unbowed, optimistic and - Omicron allowing - we have an exciting spring season to entertain the fabulous intellectually curious audience who have stood by us throughout: patrons, friends and ticket-buyers.

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Roxana Silbert is artistic director at Hampstead Theatre.

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