Omicron: Half of West End theatres hit by Covid cancellations at weekend

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Arinze Kene performs as Bob Marley in Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical at the Lyric Theatre in London
Bob Marley musical Get Up, Stand Up! was among those cancelled over the weekend

Almost half of London's major theatres were forced to cancel performances this weekend because of Covid infections, as Omicron plays havoc with live events.

Of the 46 full members of the Society of London Theatre that had shows running, 22 scrapped performances.

They included Hamilton, Matilda, Wicked, The Lion King, Cinderella, Cabaret and Come From Away.

Producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh said it was "hugely disruptive" and the industry was in a "dreadful state".

He told BBC News: "It's literally day-to-day. We spend all morning trying to work out if we can do the show or not.

"The important thing is, when we do it, it is safe, and the public have been remarkable in that they are, in our experience, turning up mostly to the shows."

'Desperate for government help'

However, bookings for the first part of 2022 are well below expectations, which is "really worrying for almost everybody across the business", he said.

"It's understandable why, but this is why we desperately need the government to step in and help the commercial theatre, because by and large the commercial theatre hasn't had any help at all across the pandemic.

"We've all used our reserves to get the shows back up. At the point that we're trying to recoup some of our losses, we are in a dreadful state at the moment and desperately need the government to help commercial theatre going through the next few weeks."

Most commercial theatres, which covers the mainstream West End and big regional venues that host hit shows, were not eligible for the government's Culture Recovery Fund.

Woman in a mask standing in front of a poster for Les Miserables in London's West End
Les Miserables was called off in the West End on Sunday

There have been numerous cancellations elsewhere in the country after outbreaks among casts or crews, with performances of Six and The Book of Mormon called off at the Lowry in Salford and the Palace Theatre in Manchester respectively.

In Leeds, Bedknobs and Broomsticks could not be staged over the weekend at the Grand Theatre, and Wendy & Peter Pan succumbed at Leeds Playhouse.

There was no White Christmas at the Edinburgh Playhouse on Saturday or Sunday, while Newcastle Theatre Royal has been forced to call off its pantomime, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, on Monday and Tuesday.

Cast of Wicked in the West End
Performances of Wicked have been scrapped between Saturday and Tuesday

On Monday, the government was considering further restrictions, which could potentially include closing indoor entertainment venues again.

"It's a terrible blow if we have to shut again," said Sir Cameron, who has eight productions in the West End, including Hamilton, Les Miserables and Mamma Mia!

"Whether we're shut by the government or shut by stealth because of all the mixed messages we've been getting - whatever happens, the government does need to step in and help the hospitality and the commercial theatres that help keep London going."

Some theatres have already decided to clear their schedules until after Christmas or New Year to allow infected cast and crew members to recover and isolate.

West End musicals The Book of Mormon, Dear Evan Hansen and Come From Away are all suspended until 27 December, with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time off until 29 December.

Shakespeare's Globe's Measure For Measure will not return until 4 January, and the curtain will stay down on the National Theatre's festive show Hex 5 until January.

Last week, arts union Equity called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to take action to protect workers in the creative industries.

"This worrying situation threatens the fragile return of live performance in theatres, pubs, clubs and other venues across a critical Christmas season," general secretary Paul Fleming wrote.

Crucial period

Stephanie Sirr, chief executive of the Nottingham Playhouse and president of UK Theatre, told BBC Breakfast: "Christmas for all theatres is the time when they make most of their money.

"It's when you can guarantee you're going to have a certain level of income, and a lot of theatres are charities. So yes it is concerning when your main earning period is under threat."

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: "Our unprecedented £2bn Culture Recovery Fund has given out £1.5bn in grants and loans, and almost £200m to the devolved administrations. The £300m third round of the Culture Recovery Fund is still open for applications, providing vital ongoing support for the cultural, heritage and creative sectors.

"We will keep the delivery of the programme under active review and consider how best to adapt it in line with the needs of the sector."

Shows currently unaffected in the West End include Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Back to the Future, Frozen, 2.22 A Ghost Story, Pretty Woman, The Shark Is Broken and The Drifters Girl.

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