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COMMENT: Without help, theatre will be a shadow of itself

THE news that The Phantom Of The Opera is to permanently close in London will come as no surprise to anyone following the eviscerating impact of Covid-19 on the performing arts.

Despite the recently announced £1.57billion bailout fund, theatres nationwide are in a perilous state.

The deadline for the first wave of applications for that money is August 21. That’s too late for theatres such as Bristol Old Vic, which this week announced plans to make a third of its staff redundant, and far too late for the many thousands of hugely talented industry freelancers whose work has completely dried up.

The beautiful paradox of theatre is that it takes weeks and months to produce something that is over in an instant. Stifle the supply chain, and you kill the thing itself.

But it’s not just about the money. The failure of the government to address before November whether theatres can open without social distancing measures has left the sector unable to plan for its future.

Unless that changes there will be no theatre this Christmas and little to speak of for most of next year.

Cameron Mackintosh has deeper pockets than most but even he can’t afford to keep actors and musicians employed without any steer on when they can go back to work. Theatre is a regenerative art form.

Many will argue that Covid is a moment of reckoning for an industry perhaps over reliant on relics such as Phantom, and that from the ashes, a bolder, better theatre will emerge.

Yet the cost will be incalculable. Without much more targeted government help, the notion that one of our greatest cultural industries can survive intact is, in the words of the Phantom himself, sweet intoxication.