‘London culture is staring down the barrel of deep financial ruin’
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‘London culture is staring down the barrel of deep financial ruin’

Coronavirus has left many art companies fearing what might lie ahead for them. Francine Wolfisz looks at the potential cost of the impending lockdown

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

The Prince Of Egypt (A New Musical) by Stephen Schwartz @ Dominion Theatre, London.
The Prince Of Egypt (A New Musical) by Stephen Schwartz @ Dominion Theatre, London.

As London’s arts and culture ground to an abrupt halt this week, with many theatres, museums, galleries and cinemas closing their doors over coronavirus, one industry insider warned they are all “staring down the barrel of deep financial ruin” without government help.

David Babani, artistic director of The Menier Chocolate Factory, called out Boris Johnson for not providing more “clarity” for the creative industry after announcing the public should “avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues” on Monday, but stopped short of forcing them to close, leaving many companies in limbo.

Nevertheless, The Society of London Theatre, which represents the West End, said theatres would close from Monday night until further notice and many other companies followed suit.

The Menier Chocolate Factory, located in Southwark, suspended all performances of Paula Vogel’s play, Indecent, until 12 April, just days after opening at the theatre.

Speaking to Jewish News, Babani said his theatre took the “difficult decision” to close its doors, adding that these were “disquieting” times for his industry.

He said: “It feels incredibly scary right now, because there are so many unknown factors and we are still not understanding as an industry where we stand, based on what the government said. I find it very disquieting that we are not even afforded any clarity. 

“Even with clarity however, other theatres in our situation will find that their insurance policy has exclusions and most insurance companies will not stand by us. There are sadly loopholes. We believe it’s a deeply unfair situation and we are all staring down the barrel of deep financial ruin.

“It’s not just the smaller companies either – even the larger, more established ones are facing financial ruin. These are very scary moments in time and without a rescue package, our industry genuinely won’t survive.”

Of whether he is hopeful Indecent – which recounts how Shalom Asch’s 1923 play, God of Venegance, resulted in the arrest of the original cast over obscenity charges – will be able to resume its run in the coming weeks, Babani said: “We have an incredible story that could not be more prescient and we will do what we can to share it again, when it is safe and right to do so.

“We don’t like the ‘cancel’ word – we are doing what we can to postpone and tread water. While it was only performed twice, both performances received standing ovations and the reaction on social media was extraordinary. I take great heart in the small amount of people we were able to move.”

Other shows affected this week include Endgame, starring Daniel Radcliffe, at the Old Vic Theatre, which was due to run until 28 March. A planned revival of Amy Herzog’s 4,000 Miles at the theatre, starring Timothee Chalamet, is however still scheduled for previews from 6 April.

Endgame with Daniel Radcliffe

Elsewhere, performances of The Prince of Egypt at The Dominion, Come From Away at Phoenix and Tom Stoppard’s play, Leopoldstadt at Wyndham’s have all been cancelled.

Actor Greg Bernstein, who was on a UK tour of A Monster Calls, described the last few days as “the most turbulent for the arts” and pleaded with ticket holders not to immediately request refunds and to “think of the long-term” for his industry.

He said: “We’re all on pause. Everything has ground to a halt. It’s been quite a shock and we don’t know what will happen. Our producers have been doing everything in their power to bring the show back, but are worried if financially the funds are not there. 

“The arts are what people turn to in times like this, people need escapism. But now we’re in this spiral of despair, people don’t even have that. It’s important the government doesn’t neglect us. Everyone is requesting refunds and so much money is draining out of these companies that when we return to normality, I fear there will be widespread bankruptcy. We need to think about the long-term situation.”

Alongside theatres, this week saw thousands of art galleries, museums and community centres closing their doors.

Shortly after the Prime Minister’s speech on Monday night, JW3 announced it would shut until further notice.

In a video posted on Facebook, its chief executive, Raymond Simonson, said the community centre made a “really tough decision” but that it had “no real choice”, adding that they were looking at ways to use technology to teach language classes remotely and put on performances through live-streaming.

He also appealed to supporters who have been offered a refund for a cancelled event to donate the money instead to JW3.

Meanwhile, the Jewish Museum, in Camden, announced it would close from Wednesday until further notice.

Film and television production has also felt the effects of the pandemic, with many commissioned shows now on hold, film sets abandoned and new releases delayed, while cinemas across the country have closed their doors.

On Wednesday, Disney announced the UK release of its new Marvel superhero film, Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson and Rachel Weisz, would not go ahead as scheduled on 11 May.

Black Widow.

The filming of three Avatar sequels in New Zealand has also been put on hold, according to producer Jon Landau. 

Speaking to the New Zealand Herald, the American-Jewish producer said: “We’ve delayed it. We had plans to come down Friday night with a group of people and start back up and we made the decision to hold off and continue working here (in Los Angeles), and come down there a little bit later than we’d planned.

“We’re in the midst of a global crisis and this is not about the film industry. I think everybody needs to do now whatever we can do, as we say here, to flatten the [coronavirus] curve.”

Avatar 2 is set to be released in December 2021, with a further three sequels already in the works.

The third instalment of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, starring Zoe Kravitz and Dan Fogler, alongside Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Paterson, has been halted, studio bosses at Warner Bros. announced this week. 

Other major films affected include DreamWorks’ Trolls World Tour, starring Rachel Bloom and The Invisible Man, featuring Oliver Jackson-Cohen, but in a move to help film fans, Universal announced this week that these and other new titles would be available to stream online for $19.99 (£16).

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