Venues across Portsmouth call on audiences to support them in 'nightmare' lockdown situation

Despite facing ‘huge uncertainty’, theatre managers across the Portsmouth region remain determined coronavirus won’t be the backdrop to their venue’s final curtain.

By Richard Lemmer
Thursday, 23rd July 2020, 7:00 am

With social distancing, reduced incomes, and uncertainty around government bailouts, theatres across the area face a ‘nightmare situation’, according to Paul Woolf, CEO of The Kings Theatre.

The venue has spent more than £600,000 this year with next to no income due to cancelled shows – and it is still unclear whether it will receive any of the government’s £1.57bn emergency arts fund.

Paul said: ‘I don't think we will see a single red cent of that funding.

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The Dub Pistols at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea on March 6, 2020. Picture: Paul Windsor

'I have been talking to a variety of people across committees, and people speaking to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, and it's going to be on a need basis.

'We were a highly successful theatre, we were profitable, and the government is going to wait until we go bankrupt before we get any money.’

It comes as The News launches its new campaign, ‘The Show Must Go On’, to highlight and support the work of performances venues as they look to entertain us despite the coronavirus pandemic.

And already venues are beginning to see the audience support they need, according to Jack Edwards, creative director at The Kings Theatre.

Paul Woolf, chief executive at the Kings Theatre, Portsmouth. Picture: Roger Arbon/Solent News & Photo Agency

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He said: ‘The way tickets are selling, our production of 42nd Street is nearly sold out.

‘The important thing is getting people used to the new atmosphere and making sure they feel safe.

‘We are not looking at making huge amounts of money. We just want people to get used to going out again.

Sheena Hulme, Interim CEO at the New Theatre Royal. Picture: Sarah Standing (161709-9397)

‘Pompey loves its theatre - Pompey needs its theatres.’

Across the region, performance spaces have seen people enthusiastic to return to seeing live performance, with Titchfield Festival Theatre selling more the £4,000 worth of tickets for its upcoming shows, several of which will be performed in the open air.

Artistic director Kevin Fraser said: ‘It's immensely gratifying. It was a risk – we didn’t know how people would feel about coming back to see live shows.

‘But we feel vindicated – nothing will stop us.’

But some smaller venues are having to remain closed as they would struggle to cover costs under social distancing guidelines.

Popular Southsea music venue the Wedgewood Rooms will remain closed – but has received support from crowdfunding and the Solent LEP to cover its overheads.

General manager Geoff Priestley said: ‘It’s not that we don’t want to open. Whilst current social distancing rules apply, it takes (the venue’s capacity) down from 400 to 40.

‘It’s not economically viable. We do a lot of touring shows and everything we have had from the autumn has moved to he spring – so even if we did open we have virtually nothing to open with.

‘But I have no intention of calling it a day.’

For the New Theatre Royal, in Guildhall Walk, staff face ‘huge uncertainty’ even looking towards the next few months.

Operations director Sheena Hulme said: ‘They key for theatres is to remain positive we will get through this – and then our customers will remain positive too.’

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