Theatre industry seeks financial help for workers hit by Omicron cancellations

·6-min read

The theatre industry is demanding more support for entertainment workers affected by Omicron cancellations​.

The London productions of hit musicals Hamilton and The Lion King were the latest to announce further cancellations due to “ongoing Covid-enforced absences” in light of rising cases of the coronavirus variant.

Equity, a trade union for performing arts workers, has written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak demanding financial support for people affected by Omicron cancellations​.

The letter said: “In recent days and weeks, we have seen a range of productions cancelled temporarily, such as the Lion King, Ocean At The End Of The Lane, Tina: The Musical, Moulin Rouge, Life Of Pi, The Rhythmics, and Hex.

“There is a significant risk that with coronavirus cases rising, this will lead to closure and thousands of our members will lose a significant proportion of their income.”

The trade union’s general secretary, Paul Fleming, asked that the Government does not “abandon” the workforce who fought to keep the industry alive.

The festive period is crucial to theatres for income and reaching new audiences, especially after most productions were cancelled or delayed in 2020.

A spokesperson for Society Of London Theatre (SOLT) said: “While ticket sales remain strong for the Christmas period, show cancellations due to cast and crew illness – compounded by Covid-related audience refund and exchange requests – are creating an increasingly bleak outlook for venues over the next few crucial weeks.

“We call on Government to recognise that, while our sector understands and welcomes many of the Plan B measures, imposing any further restrictions without targeted financial support for theatres, and individuals that work in the sector, would be a devastating blow to an industry which has already suffered an incredibly difficult 20 months.”

Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre in central London was due to resume after Wednesday evening’s show was cancelled, but it has announced that both its Thursday matinee and evening performance “can no longer play as scheduled”.

An update posted to the show’s Twitter account said they will provide further information about scheduled shows from Friday December 17 “as soon as possible”.

The musical’s American counterpart on Broadway in New York has also been hit, with a cancellation just hours before curtain-up on Wednesday due to “breakthrough cases” of the virus.

The Lion King production in London’s West End was also due to return at the Lyceum Theatre after the December 14 and 15 dates were cancelled, but the Ambassador Theatre Group said in a statement that performances from Thursday will not go ahead and it could be December 21 before they can resume.

An update on Twitter said: “Due to ongoing Covid-enforced absences within our cast and crew, unfortunately performances of Disney’s The Lion King scheduled to take place between Thursday 16 December and Sunday 19 December can no longer play as scheduled.

“We hope to resume performances on Tuesday 21 December at 2.30pm, and will provide further information as soon as possible.

“Guests affected by this change will be contacted by email in the coming days by their point of purchase, with information on how to exchange tickets into a new performance date, request a credit voucher, or to receive a refund.

“On behalf of everyone at Disney’s The Lion King we apologise for the disappointment and for any inconvenience this may cause. Thank you for your continued support.”

Two performances of Cabaret At The Kit Kat Club, featuring Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley and being staged at the Playhouse Theatre in the West End, were also cancelled on Wednesday.

Both the matinee and evening performances of the production did not go ahead, with a Twitter message for the evening show saying that “despite extremely robust measures being in place, a member of the backstage company tested positive for Covid-19 this morning”.

It added: “In order to complete testing on the wider company, we are sorry to have to cancel tonight’s performance of Cabaret At The Kit Kat Club. Your point of purchase will be in touch very shortly with alternative options.”

Life Of Pi, based on the Booker Prize-winning 2001 novel by Canadian author Yann Martel, scrapped five shows at Wyndham’s Theatre.

Producers said there had been “several cases of Covid in the company” despite “robust measures taken”.

Performances at the National Theatre of Hex, based on the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, were also cancelled until Thursday.

Meanwhile, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time is cancelled until Friday at the Troubadour Theatre Wembley.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Comedy Of Errors at the Barbican in London has also been halted, with the production hoping to restart on Thursday December 23.

Force Majeure at the Donmar Warehouse was cancelled until Friday following positive coronavirus cases in the cast.

Broadway shows hit by coronavirus issues include The Tina Turner Musical, which was forced to cancel both afternoon and evening performances on Wednesday due to “a limited number” of positive test results within the company.

Harry Potter And The Cursed Child in New York cancelled its Wednesday matinee but said the evening performance would still go ahead.

In recent months, theatres have been able to stage productions without restrictions on audience capacity.

Many venues have implemented the See It Safely scheme, from SOLT and UK Theatre bodies, which allows venues to display a special mark once they have signed up to a code of conduct and proved they are following the latest guidance.

Approved venues receive a toolkit including the mark, which can be displayed on venues and promotional material, an animated safety video, signage and further training.

Audiences now have to wear masks and show their Covid passport when attending theatre productions in the UK.

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