I ran through my favourite streets of London today and while it was a joy to see people (safely distanced) taking in the good weather as best as they could, there was a distinct hole in my heart.
I passed The Old Shades on Pall Mall, a cosy pub where I would go for a drink with my fellow cast and crew after shows at The Haymarket. And it brought back the best of memories.
The theatres. The life and soul of London. Seeing them closed, boarded up, without Londoners, tourists and theatre going fans, hanging outside with their glasses of wine, clutching programmes, discussing second halves being better than first halves, made me incredibly sad. I, in fact, continued to walk back home and write this in the notes section of my phone.
Don’t get me wrong, the importance of theatre before Covid-19 didn’t go amiss. It’s my favourite thing about London. The abundance of phenomenal shows around London and indeed the rest of the UK, the stories and talent that comes through in theatres above pubs, to the experiences and stamina of those in raucous musicals -it’s really quite incredible. Being an actor myself and a massive lover of the arts, there is little that gives me more joy than watching great writing lifted off a page, scene-setting stage sets, mood music and lighting, actors baring their souls, and the overall teamwork and chemistry on and off stage in a thrilling and rewarding experience. I happily (and regularly) escape alone to catch a show with whatever ticket is going. The same applies to film and taking any opportunity to catch a flick, but the energy in a theatre is electric and frankly irreplaceable.
When it comes to travel, culture and experience is such an integral part of what we want from a trip. And now it seems this is an even higher priority when we get to travel again. The arts experience is paramount – from New York to Paris to Sydney to Rome. And it’s more often than not, one of the things we first book alongside our hotel and our restaurants ahead of time.
So running and walking through my beloved London was devastating to see such institutions, the heartbeat of this city, closed and indeed suffering.
Theatres saw their income vanish overnight when they locked down in March, and are likely one of the last things to re-open with no certainty on how social distancing measures are possible. From The National to The Globe preparing for substantial redundancies to insolvency of the likes of Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre and Leicester Haymarket, the industry is in a state of despair.
It’s important to note the contribution of the arts industry in the UK. The creative industries are the second biggest driver of the UK economy, every £1 invested generates £3, providing £127m in VAT for the Treasury, not to mention the cultural benefits of theatre and the arts in general. After all, Killing Eve, Fleabag, Ordinary People, Quiz – all the lockdown drama we’ve been consuming on TV has come from writers who cut their teeth in theatre. More than 34million people visit theatres each year and it plays a huge role in attracting tourists, generating ticket revenue of £1.28bn, employing around 290,000 people. For the London based theatre-goers, a 7 day, 7am-10pm increased congestion charge introduction makes the case for theatre even harder. And while our storytellers are finding their ways to continue to tell these fascinating tales through youtube and our social media feeds, it’s the live shows that we really need when the time is right.
Theatre needs nationwide investment to survive or the regional theatres will die and although London will without a doubt continue to be the theatre capital of this country, much of the talent it thrives on, first encountered theatre in their hometowns up and down the country and probably cut their teeth there too. This is why we need a nationwide strategy for investment. Not subsidy, not a bailout, this is money that comes back to the exchequer threefold.
So here’s a useful list of how we can help the theatres. Not just for them, but for us. Because without theatres and all it’s wonderful people, London really isn’t the same. I urge you, let the curtain not go down on this show.
Buy venue memberships
A small way to give theatres cash injections and to give yourselves perks and access to tickets for post-lockdown shows ahead of time, is to buy into membership, friend and loyalty schemes available on their websites.
Gift yourself or someone you love theatre tokens to use once the theatre’s re-open.
Donate over refund
If you have the means, consider your ticket cost a donation instead of asking for a refund. Almost every venue relies on ticket income to survive, the goodwill of audiences is vital to keeping institutions afloat during these trying times.
Get your theatre fix online
Let the show still go on and there’s no stopping storytellers. For your ongoing theatre fix, take a look here and feel free to donate any amount you can to help support them going forward.
Some venues like London’s Arcola Theatre and Lyric Hammersmith are a registered charity and rely solely on donations whilst theatres like The Old Vic have no Arts Council support. The best thing you can do right now to help keep UK and London theatre alive is to donate to them directly. Many theatres are now accepting donations on their website. Every little bit helps! And here’s a list of theatres that are accepting online donations.
Above The Stag Theatre: Visit here to make a donation.
Alexandra Palace: Name a seat in the theatre from £450 to £900 here.
Arcola: Visit here to make a donation.
Barbican: Visit here or call 020 7638 8891 to make a donation.
Battersea Arts: Visit here to make a donation.
Bush: Visit here to make a donation.
Curve Leicester: Visit here to make a donation.
Hampstead Theatre: Visit here to make a donation.
Menier Chocolate Factory: Visit here and select “Make A Donation” under “WE NEED YOUR HELP.”
Lyric Hammersmith: Visit here to make a donation.
Park Theatre: Visit here to make a donation.
Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre: Visit here to make a donation.
Roundhouse Theatre: Visit here to make a donation.
Royal Court: Visit here to make a donation.
Sadler’s Wells: Visit here to make a donation.
Shakespeare’s Globe: Visit here to make a donation.
Soho Theatre: Visit here to make a donation.
Southwark Playhouse: Visit here to make a donation.
St Pauls Church, Covent Garden: Visit here to make a donation.
The Coronet Theatre: Visit here to make a donation.
The Kiln: Visit here to make a donation.
The Old Vic: Visit here to make a donation.
The Yard Theatre: Visit here to make a donation.
Theatre Royal Stratford East: Contact [email protected] or call 020 8279 1157 to make a donation.
Unicorn Theatre: Visit here to make a donation.
Young Vic: Visit here to make a donation.