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Jennifer Saunders joins West End workers to call for more Government help for theatre industry

Jennifer Saunders joined West End workers in a two-minute Silent Stand today to demand more Government help the ‘devastated’ 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. 

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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, theatre producer Lucy Ansbro and casting director Stephen Crockett stood side-by-side with Saunders to call for more support – and an end to socially-distanced audiences. 

Saunders stood alongside theatre directors and producers at the Gielgud Theatre in London

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

Saunders said the closure of theatres across the UK amid coronavirus was ‘devastating’ because workers’ incomes were gone ‘overnight’.

She added: ‘For tourists who come here, they normally spend a lot of money coming to the theatre and a lot of money in the restaurants and going out. It’s devastating if we don’t know when it’s reopening.’

A previous ‘silent stand’ took place outside the Lyric Theatre in September and featured comedian Dawn French and singer Beverley Knight.

Explaining the motivation behind the protest, Saunders added: ‘We are here today to draw attention to the fact the theatres are still closed and it is incredibly damaging to the whole industry really, because it supports hundreds of thousands of people. 

‘Not just actors and producers but technicians and costumes, wigs.

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

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

‘It’s a massive industry, theatre in this country, and not just in London but all around the country. 

‘Every town and city has a theatre and if they are not going to be allowed to open because of restrictions then some support has to be given, some extra support especially as furlough is ending.

‘People need some clarity, I think. Why can you get on a plane but you can’t go and sit in the theatre? We are really here just to highlight it.’ 

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

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

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

Saunders added: ‘Practically, it is very hard because to open something viably it costs a lot of money and you won’t get the tickets receipts.

‘People are putting on one-person shows and that sort of thing. It’s very hard in these old theatres.

‘I know it could be done. I know Andrew Lloyd Webber has been very vocal about certain measures he has put in place that would make it possible to open to half-house or something like that.’

Last month, Nimax Theatres announced it will reopen all six of its West End venues from October for a season of socially distanced shows.

However, reduced audience numbers mean they will run at a loss.

The Gielgud Theatre is owned by the Delfont Mackintosh Theatres group.

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

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

Audience members at the London Palladium sit with strict social distancing measures for a pilot performance by Beverley Knight

Audience members at the London Palladium sit with strict social distancing measures for a pilot performance by Beverley Knight

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.  

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

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.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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