The announcement that large areas of England will face the strictest coronavirus measures has been labelled a “terrible blow” for the theatre industry in the run-up to Christmas.
Jon Morgan, director of the Theatres Trust, said the move will have a “devastating” impact on theatres which will be in Tier 3 areas from December 2 and will therefore not be able to reopen.
Large areas in the Midlands, North East and North West will be under the toughest coronavirus measures.
Under Tier 3, all indoor entertainment venues will be forced to close, while under Tier 2 venues can reopen at a reduced capacity but there will be no mixing of households inside and alcohol can only be served alongside a substantial meal.
Mr Morgan said: “It is a terrible blow for the theatre sector that so many large towns and cities in England are now in Tier 3 where theatres are not permitted to reopen.
“There are many theatres that we know were planning pantos and other shows for December and this news will be devastating for those organisations.
“They will have invested in rehearsals and other preparations for reopening and will now find themselves unable to recoup those costs, facing further financial strain in what has already been a catastrophic year.”
Sheffield Theatres, which was scheduled to stage a pantomime at the Crucible, has said it may make its production available online following the announcement that the city will be under Tier 3 restrictions.
Dan Bates, chief executive of the theatre group, said it will be forced to take the action should the area remain under the same restrictions over the festive period.
“We are committed to doing everything we can to bring the magic of panto to Sheffield this year,” he said.
Mr Bates added: “We are remaining hopeful that the spread of the virus will slow and that we may move down to Tier 2, in which case we can reopen the Crucible’s doors.”
The Royal Shakespeare Company will also be unable to reopen its theatres after Stratford-upon-Avon was placed under Tier 3 restrictions.
In a joint statement, its executive director Catherine Mallyon and artistic director Gregory Doran said they were “deeply disappointed”.
“We have worked hard over many weeks to put strong safety measures in place ready for that moment and we look forward optimistically to 2021 when we will reopen our theatres,” they added.
“The announcement today means further difficulties and hardship to theatres and freelance colleagues around the country on top of those already faced over the last eight months.”
Caroline Norbury, chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation, said the impact on cultural organisations based in Tier 3 zones will be “devastating”.
“Christmas is a key time for many parts of the creative industries, including venues, cinemas and museums, and it is enormously sad that many weeks spent rehearsing for pantomimes, theatre shows, concerts and events may now have gone to waste,” she said.
Ms Norbury added: “Without more support, we risk losing hundreds of viable creative businesses and practitioners in Tier 3, as well as those in higher restriction areas in the devolved nations.
“For the sake of our country’s vibrant creative scene, an urgent UK-wide review is needed to assess what these viable organisations and practitioners need to weather these extraordinary times,” she added.
Those in Tier 2 areas such as London “will see a huge financial hit due to increased restrictions on alcohol sales,” she said.
The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre’s chief executive Julian Bird said: “Today’s Government announcement is a relief for theatres in Tier 1 and 2 areas, including London’s West End, but equally devastating for Tier 3 theatres yet again forced to postpone or cancel shows – especially pantos, usually an annual highlight for families and a vital source of income for theatres around the country.
“This risks the survival of many venues and leaves thousands of theatre professionals struggling over the Christmas period, particularly freelancers who cannot rely on Government support.”