ShentonSTAGE Daily Newsletter for MONDAY JANUARY 17

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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily (Please feel free to forward this e-mail to friends, and invite them to be added to this list!).

A sinking ship…..

While Downing Street continues to be engulfed in a cascade of damaging revelations about illegal parties being held in its offices and garden in clear and flagrant breach of the lockdown rules at the time, the press are openly speculating about whether time is up for Boris Johnson at last.

Meanwhile, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has waded in with a powerful distraction: that the BBC will lose the license fee.

And the Mail on Sunday has happily endorsed this news, with a leader piece that suggests:


t is, in fact, the Mail’s obsessive campaign to destroy the BBC that is the disgrace, not the BBC. And Johnson, while preparing to throw anyone and everyone under the bus to save his own skin in what one person has dubbed will be “the Night of the Long Scapegoats”, he is also planning on moving to ditch ALL Covid restrictions, too, within the next ten days, according to a front page story in the SUNDAY EXPRESS yesterday:

That’s despite the fact that COVID has claimed over 1,800 more lives in the last month alone:

We may have dodged a bullet with Omicron proving to be less dangerous than previous iterations of the virus, but we are far from over the threat it poses just yet.

And as The Guardian reported on Friday, “Britain’s theatres are counting the cost of another Christmas wrecked by Covid, with cancelled shows decimating income during a traditionally lucrative period.” It cited the shows from Theatr Clwyd in Mold losing £500,000 in income after Wales reintroduced social distancing from December 26 which forced it to cancel the latter end of its run — something entirely out of its control.

Meanwhile, at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre, almost a third of performances for its rock’n’roll panto version of Robin Hood were cancelled. According to the story, “Robin Hood’s first week was cancelled because Covid cases prevented the set from being supplied in time. An additional 15 shows were lost owing to cast and crew illness.” It quotes the theatre’s CEO Mark Da Vanzo saying, “If we get through to Saturday, we’ll have delivered 50 shows out of a planned 71. That’s pretty good going considering everything we’ve had to face with Omicron and the isolation rules.”

But other theatres have been luckier and/or better managed. The run of She Loves Me, which closed on Saturday at Sheffield’s Crucible, didn’t lose a single performance across its entire run. It faced challenges, for sure; as Kaisa Hammerlund, who was playing the second female lead Ilona Ritter in the show, tweeted on New Year’s Eve,

The company protected and supported the show — and each other — throughout the run; Alex Young, Hammerlund’s co-star, paid tribute to them, and their audiences, at the curtain call of the last performance. And according to a piece in yesterday’s Sunday Times Culture on understudies saving the day at shows from the West End’s Frozen and Pride and Prejudice (Sort of) to The RSC’s The Magician’s Elephant at Stratford-upon-Avon, it was stated that only 11 out of 80 shows at the latter were performed with the full company. 

Of course some companies are better placed to rally around, or draw on people from beyond their ranks to supplement them, like Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! at Sadler’s Wells, that was able to draw on a performer who had recently toured in Bourne’s production of The Midnight Bell to step into a role she’d previously danced a decade before in Nutcracker!

But it’s also about how seriously a company takes the risks posed by Covid, too, and what it has done to mitigate against them. It feels unsurprising to me that Liverpool lost so many performances, because when I visited the venue at the end of September, even the staff weren’t wearing masks, as I wrote here at the time, after CEO Da Vanzo told me that they it was a matter of personal choice whether staff wore them or not.

I wrote to Da Vanzo at the time to say: 

“I don’t think it’s good enough or that public health decisions should be left to personal choice. If and when theatres are forced to close again, I will be neither surprised nor sympathetic. But here’s the thing: the reason I am so passionate about this is I *want* theatre to thrive and for this NOT to happen.”

I don’t want to say I told you so now, but I really did. And it gives me no personal satisfaction whatsoever to say so, either. 

And what’s happening to audiences?
It’s hardly surprising, given the onstage challenges of keeping shows running, that audiences are also being badly impacted: not just with people testing positive and therefore unable to use their tickets, but also by the general climate of fear and uncertainty.

This is hardly helped in the UK by the lack of proper enforcement of mask wearing protocols — even though they are currently legally required. In a review of Cirque du Soleil’s Luca, that opened at the Royal Albert Hall last Thursday, Douglas Mayo pointed out, “As for the mandatory wearing of masks, it was embarrassing to say that there were more masks on the cast than the audience.”
As Daily Express critic Neil Norman tweeted,

Classical music critic Mark Valencia responded in turn:

Of course, we each of us have to make our own risk assessments on what we are willing to embrace, or not; but customers seem to be voting with their feet.

On Broadway, shows are closing or suspending performances as box office grosses are falling off a cliff, according to a report in the New York TImes yesterday, accompanied by a picture (below) of a sparsely attended performance of Girl from the North Country at the Belasco Theatre.

As Michael Paulson writes,

“During the week that ended Jan. 9, just 62 percent of seats were occupied. That’s the lowest attendance has been since a week in 2003 when musicians went on strike, and it’s a precipitous drop from the January before the pandemic, when 94 percent of seats were filled during the first week after the holidays. 

The casualty list is growing. Over the last month, nine shows have decided to close their doors, at least temporarily. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a huge hit before the pandemic, announced last week that it would close until June; on Sunday “Ain’t Too Proud,” a successful jukebox musical about the Temptations, closed for good.Box-office grosses are falling off a cliff.

The all-important Christmas and New Year’s weeks, which producers count on each year to fatten their coffers in anticipation of the lean weeks that follow, generated just $40 million this season, down from $99 million before the pandemic. Requests for ticket refunds are now so high that on some days some shows have negative wraps, meaning they are giving back more money than they are taking in.“

This is the worst I have ever experienced,” said Jack Viertel, a longtime executive at Jujamcyn Theaters, which operates five Broadway houses.”

See you in your inbox on Wednesday. But if you can’t wait that long, you can find me on Twitter @ShentonStage (though not as often on weekends)

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