Coronavirus: Two Theatre Royals, two cities, two job warnings in two days

Newcastle Theatre Royal

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Newcastle Theatre Royal: “When we reopen we will be in a changed world”

The Theatre Royal in Newcastle has followed its namesake in Plymouth in making a redundancy announcement as the arts world grapples with the fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic.

The venues are 400 miles apart and are not linked, apart from sharing a name.

On Tuesday, the Devon theatre warned that 110 of its 350 jobs were at risk.

A day later, the Newcastle venue said it had taken the “the very difficult and heartbreaking decision” to make 44 of its 89 staff redundant.

A further 13 will work on reduced hours and pay, with the remainder put on a retainer.

On Tuesday, the government ruled out the return of live performances during the latest phase of the easing of lockdown in England.

Theatres and music venues are pleading for further official guidance and financial support to see them through the closure.

‘Unfortunate inequality’

“We have had no performances and no income for three months, we have no funding to support us and we have no guidance about when we will reopen,” said Newcastle Theatre Royal chief executive Philip Bernays.

“Faced with this uncertainty we have to do everything we can to secure the future of Newcastle Theatre Royal. When we reopen we will be in a changed world and as an organisation we need to be ready for this.”

Unlike most theatres, the Newcastle venue does not get annual Arts Council England (ACE) funding so cannot access its emergency funding.

On Tuesday, the MPs representing five cities with theatres outside the ACE stable – Birmingham, Canterbury, Newcastle, Norwich and Southampton – wrote to culture minister Caroline Dineage to ask for help with the “unfortunate inequality”.

However, the Newcastle Theatre Royal has said it is hoping to reopen on 24 November, and its pantomime is still scheduled to go ahead.

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Theatre Royal Plymouth

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The Theatre Royal Plymouth is one of the biggest producing houses outside London

The Plymouth panto is also currently still on. “We’re sitting on over £500,000 worth of advance sales for our pantomime and we’re ready to go with that,” chief executive Adrian Vinken told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday.

“All we need is some confidence that we’ll be safe and able to open then.”

Venues will only get back to normal, he said, when social distancing “is a thing of a past and people feel comfortable and able to return safely to the theatre”. The “sheer economics of large-scale theatre just don’t work” otherwise, he added.

After the Plymouth announcement, James Graham, the playwright behind ITV drama Quiz, warned that the country’s “world-beating cultural landscape is in collapse“.

Production assistant Lauren Walsh, meanwhile, wrote a Twitter thread saying she “can’t see any way of remaining in the industry”.

Last week culture secretary Oliver Dowden said he was working on a “roadmap” to allow performances to return, having previously said he would not “stand by and see our world-leading position in arts and culture destroyed”.

Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, who is chair of another Theatre Royal – Stratford East, in east London – warned on Wednesday that venues would take “irrevocable decisions” about staff cuts if a support package was not announced within the next 10 days.

Christine Payne, general secretary of actors’ union Equity, called on Mr Dowden and chancellor Rishi Sunak to “urgently bring forward an investment plan for the sector to protect jobs and workplaces”.

After meeting the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on Wednesday, she said: “It is crystal clear that the majority of our workplaces and the people who work in them will need ongoing financial support for the months ahead.”

Other venues to have warned about redundancies include Birmingham Hippodrome and the Wales Millennium Centre.

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