Portsmouth theatre boss hits out at 'devastating' extension of Covid-19 restrictions

THE boss of a historic Southsea theatre has warned that the month-long delay to Covid-19 restrictions being lifted will have a ‘devastating’ impact as the business continues to eat into its reserves.

By Richard Lemmer
Monday, 14th June 2021, 10:03 pm
Chief Executive Paul Woolf at the Kings Theatre, Portsmouth. Picture: Roger Arbon/Solent News & Photo Agency
Chief Executive Paul Woolf at the Kings Theatre, Portsmouth. Picture: Roger Arbon/Solent News & Photo Agency

Paul Woolf, the chief executive of the Kings Theatre in Albert Road, said he had ‘no hope’ that restrictions would be lifted on June 21 – but his foresight has done little to soften the blow.

He said: ‘I had no hope. I didn’t have any expectation because of the way this government behaves.’

The theatre boss said the industry is increasingly frustrated with the Covid-19 rules as some venues begin to welcome back tens of thousands of visitors under social distancing rules.

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The Kings Theatre, in Albert Road, Southsea. Picture: Habibur Rahman

He said: ‘Why can only 30 people go to a wedding when 17,000 can go watch cricket?

‘But you can’t go to a theatre...everybody can come with a piece of lunacy from these rules and regulations.

‘The impact on us is enormous – it’s another devastating blow for theatre.

‘We have already had to reschedule everything four or five times.’

More than 17,000 fans flocked to Birmingham to witness the Edgbaston Test last Thursday.

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Meanwhile, the Kings remains empty, having cancelled its summer panto, Dick Whittington, earlier this year.

Now the 113-year-old theatre has eaten into half of its pre-Covid reserves – and securing financial support involves ‘insane’ bureaucratic checks, according to Paul.

A £170,000 Arts Council funding grant secured earlier this year now requires the theatre to report back on its spending – but the original grant was made under the assumption that the business would be fully reopened throughout June.

Paul said: ‘It’s insane.

‘How we report is beyond me – no one understands.

‘So even the funding, the support – the government isn’t clearing the pathway. They are making it so difficult.’

The theatre is still waiting for more than £12,000 from the grant due to a backlog of work at the Arts Council, according to Paul.

Now the delay to restriction’s cessation has left the arts sector spokesman questioning the government’s commitment to his industry.

He said: ‘If the government thinks the theatre is some nice-to-have thing, rather than an essential part of the cultural offering within the UK, then come out and say that.

‘I was on a call with The Charity Commission and there were other theatres on that call and there is no question they were absolutely struggling.

‘We’re struggling.’

The Kings Theatre is planning to resume productions with children’s show Fireman Sam Live on August 22.

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