Jennifer Saunders calls for more Government help for theatre industry

Jennifer Saunders joins West End workers to call for more Government help for theatre industry and end to socially-distanced audiences

  • Jennifer Saunders joined two-minute Silent Stand to demand help for theatres 
  • She wore all black for the demonstration outside the Gielgud Theatre in London
  • The Government previously unveiled a £1.57 billion support package for the arts
  • The protesters called for more help and an end to socially-distanced audiences 

Jennifer Saunders joined West End workers in a two-minute Silent Stand today to demand more Government help for the theatre industry.

The Absolutely Fabulous star, 62, dressed all in black as she stood alongside theatre directors and producers at the Gielgud Theatre in London. 

The Government previously announced a £1.57 billion support package to ‘protect’ the future of Britain’s arts, with museums, galleries and theatres, independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues eligible for emergency grants and loans.  

But producer David Pugh, director Caroline Jay Ranger, vocalist Louise Clare Marshall and director Stephen Crockett stood side-by-side with Saunders to call for more support – and an end to socially-distanced audiences. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Britain’s theatre industry could reopen from August 15 as lockdown restrictions were eased.


Jennifer Saunders (pictured), 62, dressed all in black as she stood alongside theatre directors and producers at the Gielgud Theatre in London

Producer David Pugh, director Caroline Jay Ranger, vocalist Louise Clare Marshall and director Stephen Crockett stood side-by-side with Saunders (centre) to call for more support – and an end to socially-distanced audiences

But theatre bosses complained strict rules on social distancing meant theatres could only fill up to 30 or 40 per cent – meaning shows could lose money.

Director and choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne wrote on Twitter: ‘Why make these announcements when they know that the vast majority of theatre, dance and music is not financially viable under ‘Covid secure’ conditions?’

He added the hashtag: ‘#falsehope’. 

Some theatres have already closed down, making staff redundant, amid the pandemic and high-profile industry figures have warned that the industry might never recover without significant intervention.

In July, the Royal Opera House announced it had begun a restructuring process because of the scale of financial pressure. 

The opera house’s director of music, Antonio Pappano, waived his salary at the beginning of the crisis and chief executive Alex Beard took a significant reduction in salary.

The Government previously announced a £1.57 billion support package to ‘protect’ the future of Britain’s arts, with museums, galleries and theatres, independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues eligible for emergency grants and loans. Pictured, Saunders

Outdoor performances were allowed to resume on July 10 with restricted audience numbers and social distancing.

Mr Johnson said: ‘It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November, at the earliest, possibly in time for Christmas.’

The festive period is a vital time for many theatres, with much of their annual income coming from pantomimes.

But with the number of coronavirus cases rising rapidly due to an error over the weekend – there is concern over the possibility of a return to full capacity.

Public Health England admitted nearly 16,000 cases had been missed off its dashboard system in the space of a week – most of them in the past few days.  

Outdoor performances were allowed to resume on July 10 with restricted audience numbers and social distancing. Indoor theatres opened on August 15

Saunders wore a black face mask to remain covid-safe as she stood with colleagues for the Silent Stand on Monday morning

On Friday, the daily tally stood at 6,968 positive cases, comparable to the level it had been all week.

But on Saturday, it rose abruptly to 12,872, and yesterday’s tally was more than three times higher – a record 22,961 new cases.

A further 33 deaths – the figures of which were not impacted by the technical issue – were also confirmed yesterday. 

Theatres were able to open in August with reduced venue capacity and limited ticket sales to ensure social distancing, while tickets are purchased online and venues encouraged to use e-tickets to reduce contact and help with track and trace.

There is also increased deep cleaning of auditoriums, and performances are scheduled to allow sufficient time for cleaning before the next audience arrives.

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