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Theatre boss warns of ‘devastating’ impact of decision to halt lockdown easing

The chief executive of the Kings Theatre in Hampshire has called for certainty to end the ‘impossible’ situation for arts bosses.

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Paul Woolf, of Kings Theatre (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Paul Woolf, of Kings Theatre (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Paul Woolf, of Kings Theatre (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The chief executive of a classic regional theatre has warned of the “devastating” impact of the Government’s decision to keep lockdown restrictions in place.

Paul Woolf, chief executive of the Kings Theatre in Southsea, Hampshire, said the “uncertainty” created by the change in plans makes it “impossible” to put on financially viable theatre productions.

He warned that the continuing failure to lift restrictions would lead to many more arts businesses going bankrupt because of social distancing requirements.

Mr Woolf said that the first productions at the Kings Theatre were planned for late August but added that he believed the Government advice meant that many people would not be ready to return to normal existence, including buying theatre tickets.

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Paul Woolf, chief executive of Kings Theatre in Portsmouth (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Paul Woolf, chief executive of Kings Theatre in Portsmouth (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Paul Woolf, chief executive of Kings Theatre in Portsmouth (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Describing the impact of the decision, Mr Woolf told the PA news agency: “It continues the devastating effect that this whole process has had, it creates another month of uncertainty, which builds up in people, it creates a level of unpreparedness to go out more and engage with the theatre.

“Technically we are allowed to open but of course the uncertain level created by the Government means producers can’t make the shows that we would normally bring to the theatre and the shows we are producing ourselves are on hold because we can’t guarantee the investment we put into those shows would be matched by the ticket-buying public.

“At the moment, social distancing has a massive impact, this theatre has a capacity between 1,300 and 1,400 people, on a social distanced basis that capacity is reduced to 425 and at that level it’s very difficult to make money, in fact it’s impossible.”

He said: “I would like the Government to stop the uncertain merry-go-round that we are all on, it seems that some people like being on it, but the majority don’t like being on the roundabout, we need certainty, we need clarity, we need to stop this bounce from science to data to policy to government to politics.

“The theatre business, the arts and entertainment businesses are hugely suffering and can’t organise themselves, you can’t make a plan, for a shop you can’t make a plan, two people at a time, for a theatre, 400 people instead of 1,400 people, you cannot plan.

“At some point the Government will have to make a decision, either keep us on the merry-go-round and they will have to let businesses collapse or provide more funding over an extended period of time rather than the drip-feed operation that the Arts Council are doing through the Cultural Recovery Fund which is becoming ever increasingly difficult to navigate.

“I believe we will never be able to zero Covid, we have never zero-ed anything, we have not zero-ed flu, if there is a stealth attempt to do that then I fear for the number of businesses that will go bankrupt.”

The pandemic has led to the postponement of the planned £5 million conservation project for the 113-year-old theatre designed by renowned architect Frank Matcham, which was on the brink of being launched when the crisis hit.

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