Lights out, but what are York’s theatres doing to keep the fat lady singer at bay?

“Critical situation”: Dark nights, dark days too, at York Theatre Royal until further notice

CLOSED. Closed. Closed. Closed. Closed. York’s theatres have shut down en masse in response to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Monday briefing on Black Monday to avoid unnecessary social contact at pubs, clubs and theatres.

One by one came the measured official statements in response to the rising Coronavirus pandemic, announced with regret, sadness and heavy hearts.

By way of contrast, a tide of anger rose ever higher on social media from the entertainment industry, feeling shafted by the PM not legislating closure, merely advising it.

In doing so, he placed the decision in the (no doubt frequently washed) hands  of theatre managements, boards and trusts, whose sense of moral responsibility left no option but to announce closure until further notice as a precaution amid the Coronavirus crisis. When insurance effectively amounts to no insurance, hell by hand cart is the only journey in town.

Lights out: Ellen Kent Company’s La Boheme, at the Grand Opera House tomorrow is snuffed out by the Prime Minister’s Coronavirus dictum

The Grand National, the first post-Brexit Eurovision, the Chelsea Flower Show, Glastonbury Festival, the Euro 2020 football championships, are all scrapped for 2020. A tsunami of further announcements will follow, not least from theatre companies cancelling or postponing tours.

Keep Calm and Carry On may be the mantra, but the fear is that Keep Calm and Carry On may well turn to carrion on account of, well, the accounts.

York Theatre Royal, in St Leonard’s Place, Theatre @41 Monkgate, the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, in Haxby Road, and Riding Lights Theatre Company’s Friargate Theatre, in Lower Friargate, have individual boards and managements addressing urgent, previously unimaginable requirements and strictures.

Likewise, the Ambassadors Theatre Group, owners of the Grand Opera House, is co-ordinating the Coronavirus-impacted strategy throughout ATG, making statements for the Cumberland Street theatre, whose staff are now working remotely from home.

Clock stopped: PIck Me Up Theatre’s Tom’s Midnight Garden was curtailed after Monday’s performance at Theatre @ 41 Monkgate, York

These are unprecedented circumstances. Circumstances not even seen in wartime when theatres – some, not all – across the land stayed open through 1939 to 1945.

Circumstances where the new C-word has led to theatre after theatre – together with cinemas, music clubs, museums, galleries, visitor attractions, SparkYork, et al – to issue variations on: “It is with enormous sadness that we take these measures, but the safety of our audiences, staff and community is of utmost importance.”

So, where does each of these York theatres stand now, in a city where, like the rest, the theatre focus is turning to those of the medical variety? The best advice is to visit the theatre websites for information on the present closures, ticket refunds, and, in light of the harsh financial reality, Donate Today requests. “Your support is vital to our survival,” pleads York Theatre Royal bluntly.

A spokesman for the Theatre Royal – take it as read that it was executive director Tom Bird – said: “The closure of theatres in the UK puts York Theatre Royal, along with hundreds of other theatres, into a critical situation.”

Road closed: Riding Lights Theatre Company have had give up The Narrow Road tour for Lent

Does that make it theatre’s version of the intensive care unit? Time will tell, but the arts have a way of defying the last rites, always have, always will, keeping the fat lady singer waiting, the final curtain up in the flies. What they will make of Richmond Rishi’s £330 billion loan scheme is another discussion point for the in-tray, however.

In a nutshell, York Theatre Royal’s shows and public events initially are cancelled until April 11, but there surely will be no miraculous resurrection on Easter Sunday. The York Theatre Royal building, box office and café remained open initially, but the building closed to the public today (March 19). The box office is still taking phone calls on 01904 623568; ticket refunds are underway.

Shows at the Grand Opera House, in common with all Ambassadors Theatre Group theatres, are “temporarily suspended with immediate effect”, with a policy of postponement and future re-arranged dates to be confirmed, rather than cancellations, at this stage.

“We are following government guidance which is currently ambiguous,” say ATG. “It is unclear how long theatres are to remain closed. We will reopen them once the government and medical authorities confirm that there is no risk to our audiences, performers and staff. 

The Missing Peace: one of the now missing pieces at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, but with plans for re-arranged dates later

“We are working hard with our producers and performers to understand how this will play out, so we can’t confirm that at this time. We will try, wherever possible, to re-programme shows that have been suspended.”

The Joseph Rowntree Theatre will remain closed “until we receive further instruction that it is safe to reopen”. “We will be issuing further advice in the coming days on how we are going to manage ticket refunds and exchanges,” says trust chairman Dan Shrimpton. “We would ask that you please bear with us and wait for us to contact you.”

The Theatre @41 Monkgate website is yet to be updated following Monday’s Coronavirus ultimatum – the About Us section has Covid-19 Guidance from before – but Pick Me Up Theatre artistic director Robert Readman announced performances would cease after Tom’s Midnight Garden that evening.

He also cancelled Pick Me Up’s Sondheim 90 birthday concert this Sunday and the April 17 to 25 run of The Pirates Of Penzance. Be assured that Coronavirus has been the death of York Shakespeare Project’s Macbeth from March 31 to April 4 too.

Riding Lights, York’s Christian theatre company based at Friargate Theatre, have cancelled their March 16 to April 11 tour of The Narrow Road. “We are very sorry not to be performing this Lent but wish you a happy and safe Easter,” their website says.

Meanwhile, prayers and thoughts go to all those working in the theatres at York Hospital and elsewhere, preparing for whatever is to come.

Copyright of The Press, York