Home » London Theatre News » ‘Theatre stands on the brink of ruin’ writes Sonia Friedman

‘Theatre stands on the brink of ruin’ writes Sonia Friedman

Lyceum Theatre LondonSonia Friedman writes in The Telegraph:
British theatre is on the brink of total collapse. All the performing arts – theatre, dance, opera, comedy, theatre in education, Christmas pantomime, community shows – are facing the real possibility of complete obliteration. I know it sounds melodramatic. It beggars belief – but it is a statement of fact.

Without an urgent government rescue package, 70 per cent of our performing arts companies will be out of business before the end of this year. More than 1,000 theatres around the country will be insolvent and might shut down for good. 

The loss is inconceivable. What we take for granted has taken generations to create. It would be irrecoverable. We need our government to step up and step in – sharpish. There is no time to waste.

Imagine the next six months. One by one, our arts and cultural organisations will have to spend their reserves until there is nothing left. They will have no alternative but to enter administration: the Young Vic in November, Shakespeare’s Globe and the Old Vic shortly after. Southampton has already lost its producing theatre, the Nuffield. Others could soon follow: Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds, Sheffield.

Unless there is intervention, we’ll watch the Royal Shakespeare Company close down, the Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells, even the National Theatre itself: all will be gone by December. All West End theatres will be mothballed. Dark. We cannot let this happen.

Theatre is my life – my company has shut down and suspended over 18 productions globally in the past 10 weeks – but I know very well that theatre is not alone in the struggle against this historic crisis. It is not a special case, but the problem it is facing is a unique case and painfully simple. 

Since shutting their doors in mid-March, theatre companies have had virtually no income at all. The business of commercial and subsidised theatres is built on box-office revenue. Everything else is extra. We’ve no other means of earning money. Theatre can’t offer takeaways. It can’t shift its business online, welcome though the streaming of our shows has been. 

Arts and cultural organisations have lost 95 percent of their income. Theatre has been hit hardest of all. The three-month shutdown has meant £330 million of income lost. As of now, we’re staring at a closure lasting six to nine months. It could even be a year or more.

Costs carry on regardless, of course, even reduced to the bare minimums. Basic overheads alone are patently unsustainable without income. It costs £30,000 a week to keep a West End playhouse closed. The National is losing millions every month.

Many theatres missed out on insurance claims. All have watched advance ticket sales fall away. Reserves are already running dangerously low. Only the Government’s brilliant job-retention scheme has kept our industry afloat this far – and the second it stops, theatres will sink. I am pleased to hear of the appointment of Neil Mendoza
as Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal and hope his arrival will mark the beginning of a swift and productive dialogue between government and the arts sector.

This damage is not just limited to theatre buildings. Across the country, commercial theatre productions have closed. Without assistance, many of these productions will not reopen. Even large-scale, long-running hits are at risk. Regional theatres dependent on income from tours will lose the very shows that might help them survive.


Protecting and preserving what we have will cost far, far less than reconstructing it from the ruins. It is time to act.”



Scroll to Top