The new West End musical A Christmas Carol has had its star-studded opening night just one day before it must shut, as producers warned theatres face disaster following the decision to put London into Tier Three.
The show at the Dominion Theatre in London has been running since December 7 but had its official opening night yesterday and was set to run until January 2 with audiences of 1,000 – half the venue’s normal capacity.
But it will now have only two further performances at 3pm and 7.30pm today – with star Brian Conley, who plays Ebenezer Scrooge, saying last night: ‘We opened tonight. We close tomorrow. What’s that all about?’
West End box offices took an estimated £75million last December, and theatre owners had reported huge demand for tickets in recent days, with Nimax venues hosting 42 performances of 12 shows in six theatres in the last week.
Shows are now suspended, but tickets for some – including A Christmas Carol – are still on sale from Wednesday next week onwards when the next review of tiers is expected, amid faint hopes that London could be moved back down a tier on the day that the five-day Christmas bubbles begin.
A review in What’s On Stage said theatres closing felt a ‘very Scrooge-like gesture on the part of a government that has yet to prove they love the arts’, while London Theatre Direct said the show ‘certified itself as a must-see’.
The Grade II-listed Dominion is owned by Nederlander Theatres, a division of the New York-based US group Nederlander Organization, which also owns the Aldwych and Adelphi theatres in London. The show was produced by musical director Freddie Tapner for the London Musical Theatre Orchestra and theatre producer Gary England.
The show, which had tickets available for today’s matinee for between £43.75 to £72.50, also stars Busted singer Matt Willis, EastEnders actress Jacqueline Jossa, X Factor star Lucie Jones and Sandra Marvin from Emmerdale.
Among the stars attending the UK premiere at the Dominion last night were Jessica Plummer from I’m A Celebrity, comedian Keith Lemon, stylist Gok Wan and TV presenter Emma Willis, who is also the wife of Matt Willis.
Other West End shows which have now been cancelled include: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (Apollo Theatre), The Elf Who Was Scared of Christmas (Charing Cross Theatre), The Play That Goes Wrong (Duchess Theatre), Potted Panto (Garrick Theatre), Pantoland (London Palladium), The Comeback (Noel Coward Theatre), Mischief Movie Night (Vaudeville Theatre) and Les Miserables: The All-Star Staged Concert (Sondheim Theatre).
The update comes a day after the Government confirmed that London will move into Tier Three from tomorrow, requiring restaurants, pubs and other leisure and hospitality venues to shut their doors to customers.
The British Beer & Pub Association said in London alone the restrictions will force 1,250 pubs that remained open in Tier Two to close, putting nearly 8,000 more jobs at risk. Under the new restrictions, which also apply to parts of Essex and Hertfordshire, entertainment venues including concert halls, cinemas and museums must also close.
New West End Company, which represents local businesses, said it could not yet put a figure on the total losses that will be caused by the ‘hammer blow’, but pointed out that 10 per cent of all Londoners work in the West End.
Footfall in Central London has been significantly weaker this year due to travel restrictions, the enforced closure of shops and venues and guidance for workers to stay at home, with West End landlord Shaftesbury announcing a £699million annual loss today after the pandemic battered rental income and caused property values to plunge.
Jessica Plummer (left) from I’m A Celebrity and comedian Keith Lemon (right) were at London’s Dominion Theatre last night
Emma Willis (left), whose husband Matt is in the show, and Gok Wan (right) attend the opening night in London yesterday
Hand sanitiser and temperature checks were in place before A Christmas Carol at the Dominion Theatre in London last night
A Christmas Carol, which was due to run until January 2, stars entertainer Brian Conley, Busted singer Matt Willis, EastEnders actress Jacqueline Jossa, X Factor star Lucie Jones and Sandra Marvin from Emmerdale
The Dominion Theatre is owned by Nederlander Theatres, a division of the New York-based US group Nederlander Organization, whose president is James L. Nederlander (left). Producer Gary England (right) is behind A Christmas Carol. Mr England said last week it had been a ‘herculean task’ to get the show on and admitted it was a ‘hugely risky business’
The musical was written by famed Disney composer Alan Menken, Lynn Ahrens and Mike Ockrent and premiered in 1994 at New York’s Paramount Theatre before running for more than a decade at Madison Square Garden.
Mr England said last week it had been a ‘herculean task’ to get the show on and it was a ‘hugely risky business but ultimately it came from the heart’, adding that he was a ‘commercial producer’ and not funded by the Arts Council.
Speaking last Wednesday in a podcast called Passions, Mr England added: ‘It’s not only our money that’s invested, it’s our investors’ money, and there’s obviously a huge sense of responsibility that goes along with that.’
It comes as Andrew Lloyd Webber said it seemed ‘arbitrary and unfair’ to ban performances while shopping was still allowed, while Cameron Mackintosh said forcing venues to close was devastating and ‘smacked of panic’.
Top West End landlord Shaftesbury plunges to £700million loss as virus hits property valuations
West End landlord Shaftesbury has plummeted to a £699 million annual loss after the pandemic battered rental income and caused property values to plunge.
Shares in the company, whose properties span London’s Carnaby Street, Chinatown and Seven Dials, slipped after it swung to the pre-tax loss for the 12 months to September, following a £26 million profit last year.
The company said the loss was driven by a dive in the value of property estate, which is highly exposed to retail and hospitality sectors which have been hit hard by the pandemic.
It said £698.5 million was wiped off the value of its estate, taking its value down 18.3 per cent to £3.1 billion by September. Rental income slumped by 24.2 per cent to £74.3million for the period, Shaftesbury said.
The group’s chief executive Brian Bickell said: ‘Rarely in history has the world seen such widespread disruption to normal patterns of life. Only now are we seeing the first positive signs that conditions will begin to improve in the year ahead.
‘The pandemic has had a significant impact on our performance, particularly during the second half of the financial year, depriving our hospitality and retail occupiers of footfall and trade and resulting in reduced rent collections, increased vacancy, reduced occupier demand and a fall in property valuations. Our key priority has been, and continues to be, supporting our occupiers through this period of disruption.’
Shares in the company were 3.7 per cent lower at 528.5p in early trading today.
Jon Morgan of the Theatres Trust said: ‘It is a disaster for London’s theatres. Theatres have worked incredibly hard to create safe environments for audiences and through no fault of their own will now face enormous financial losses. They have done so at great risk as it is currently impossible to secure production insurance.’
He said the tier system meant ‘more uncertainty and risk for months’ and called on the Government to introduce an insurance scheme to support the industry.
Tier Two restrictions had allowed for socially-distanced performances and museums to welcome visitors.
Among shows to be affected by the capital being plunged into Tier Three is Pantoland at the London Palladium, which opened on Saturday starring Julian Clary and Elaine Paige.
Sir Cameron said: ‘The sudden volte face in deciding to immediately put London into Tier Three and shut down the West End is devastating for both the theatre and the economy.
‘Even worse it smacks of panic and makes all our considerable and costly efforts to ensure the safety of both performers and audiences alike, widely praised by the health authorities, seem worthless. It breaks any sense of trust between us as an industry and the government departments we’ve been trying to build a rapport with.
‘The commercial theatre has had virtually no support from the Treasury, apart from the offer of quite expensive loans – which we, unlike the subsidised theatre, have been asked to give personal guarantees to repay. A lot of us do not want to go into debt to pay for losses caused by diktats completely out of our control.’
Lord Lloyd-Webber said: ‘Theatres have worked tirelessly to make themselves as Covid safe as possible.
‘It does seem arbitrary and unfair that people can jostle uncontrolled in crowded shops yet orderly socially distanced theatre-going is banned.’
Theatre producer Sonia Friedman said: ‘London going into Tier Three is yet another blow for British theatre – one it simply cannot afford after a brutal year, and one that both could and should have been avoided.
‘It feels like a final straw: proof that this government does not understand theatre and the existential crisis it is facing. Its short-sightedness is starting to look like serial mismanagement.’
Michael Harrison, director of the Pantoland pantomime which opened at the London Palladium on Saturday, said he is ‘deeply concerned’ about the financial impact of Tier Three restrictions on the West End.
The cast for A Christmas Carol at the Dominion Theatre includes (back row, left to right) Sandra Marvin as Mrs Fezziwig, Matt Jay-Willis as Bob Cratchit, Brian Conley as Ebenezer Scrooge and Lucie Jones as The Ghost of Christmas Past, with (seated, left to right) Jacqueline Jossa as The Ghost of Christmas Future and Cedric Neal as The Ghost of Christmas Present
Producers posted a message online yesterday saying that the performances at 3pm and 7.3pm today will still be going ahead
People sat outside a pub in the West End of London last night after the announcement that the capital is going into Tier Three
He added: ‘Whilst the safety and health of our visitors, staff and performers is of extreme importance, the Government’s yo-yoing approach on advice is frankly appalling.’
Last pints before Christmas! London pubs throw open their doors from 9am and sell beers for 99p hours before the capital is plunged into Tier Three – as landlords warn 160,000 jobs are at risk and sector will lose £2.7bn
Londoners have sat down to enjoy their last pub pints before Christmas – as industry experts warn more than 160,000 jobs in the hospitality industry have been put at risk by the move into Tier Three.
London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire will be put under Tier Three curbs from tonight.
Drinkers at a Wetherspoons pub in South West London today
But hospitality bosses slammed the ‘catastrophic’ decision to move London and parts of the home counties into the higher band of restrictions.
Under the new rules, only businesses offering takeaway and delivery will be allowed to remain open.
The move will wipe off £2.7billion from the hospitality industry in London as pubs, bars and restaurants are forced to close in the last two weeks of the year during what is typically their busiest trading time. They called for an urgent support package for the hospitality sector to help businesses survive.
It came as Londoners started drinking early at pubs across the capital before the city is plunged into Tier 3 tonight. Some businesses in the city opened their doors from 9am this morning and Wetherspoons were offering pints for as little as 99p in an attempt to get rid of stock with only hours to go before the shutdown.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, along with their three children, went to watch the pantomime last week.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden was also in attendance. Discussing Mr Dowden’s visit, Mr Harrison said he was ‘thrilled to see him crying with laughter’.
He added that ‘it’s just a shame my entire cast and company are now crying because of the Government’s decision to put London into Tier Two just 12 days ago encouraging us all to press on with our productions only to realise that was in fact a mistake’.
Miss Paige tweeted: ‘Oliver Dowden [the Culture Secretary] saw it for himself. And yet Tubes and flights still allowed? These rules are illogical. The audience response shows how desperate they are for two hours of escapism. If it’s so terrible – cancel Christmas!’
Playwright James Graham said the theatre industry has been ‘decimated’ ahead of the closure of venues.
Entertainment venues in the capital and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire will be welcoming visitors for the last time today before new Tier Three restrictions come into force.
Graham, who wrote Ink, This House and The Vote, as well as TV dramas Quiz and Brexit, labelled the move as ‘sad’.
He tweeted: ‘The largest concentration of theatres on earth managed to open last week, only to close tonight.
‘The hope was to revive a decimated sector and tell stories at Christmas. Thousands spent to get Covid secure, closed in blanket measures. So sorry. So sad.’
Julian Bird, chief executive of Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, the membership organisations which aim to promote the sector, also said the announcement is bad news for the industry.
‘The past few days have seen venues beginning to reopen with high levels of Covid security, welcoming back enthusiastic, socially distanced audiences,’ he said.
‘Theatres across London will now be forced to postpone or cancel planned performances, causing catastrophic financial difficulties for venues, producers and thousands of industry workers – especially the freelancers who make up 70 per cent of the theatre workforce.
‘We urge Government to recognise the huge strain this has placed on the sector and look at rapid compensation to protect theatres and their staff over Christmas in all areas of the country under Tier Three restrictions.’
The Creative Industries Federation said the Tier Three announcement is ‘devastating news’ for London’s creative sector.
A tweet from the trade body said: ‘Devastating news for London’s £58billion creative sector, particularly for the many who will see a total loss of income due to today’s Tier Three announcement.
‘Greater support including insurance for those planning future performances and events is needed for all parts of UK facing restrictions.’
The New West End Company, which represents businesses in the area, said they could not yet put a figure on the total losses to companies that will be caused by Tier Three, but pointed out that 10 per cent of all Londoners work in the West End.
Jace Tyrrell, chief executive at New West End Company, said: ‘We all recognise that the safety of the public is of paramount importance, and action must be taken to ensure that the infection rate remains low, but these stop start measures are worsening an already catastrophic situation.
‘However well telegraphed, yesterday’s announcement comes as a hammer blow to the West End’s restaurants and hotels. Advising against travel will heap further pressure on retailers that have invested millions in enhanced safety measures and staff training to support trade.
‘We call on the Government to provide vital financial support to compensate these viable businesses. For all those Londoners locked down into tier three, our message is that the West End remains safe and open to you, so come and support these retail businesses and help protect local jobs.’
The Government is currently distributing its £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund to the arts sector.