As panto season draws to a close, UK theaters are counting the cost of another Covid-destroyed Christmas, with canceled shows decimating revenue during a traditionally lucrative period.
York Theater Royal’s Cinderella – whose star and stunt double have both had to self-isolate – has canceled 12 performances with an estimated loss of £200,000. Clwyd TheaterBeauty and the Beast of ‘s achieved comparable ticket sales in the pre-Covid era, but the Welsh Government’s Covid restrictions, introduced on Boxing Day, led to the venue canceling all remaining performances, from one estimated value £500,000. At Scarborough Etienne-Joseph Theater, nearly half of Jack and the Beanstalk’s run was lost due to coronavirus cases at the company; now the theater hopes to draw audiences to a online version this month.
Liverpool EverymanThe rock’n’roll pantomime Robin Hood, which ends this Saturday, has seen nearly a third of performances cancelled, amounting to at least £100,000 in ticket revenue – not to mention lost ice cream sales. Christmas was a critical time, said its CEO, Mark Da Vanzo. The financial success of the panto, carried over from 2020, “supports the rest of the artistic programming throughout the year”.
The first week of Robin Hood was canceled as Covid cases prevented the set from being supplied on time. An additional 15 shows were lost due to cast and crew illness. “If we come to Saturday, we will have delivered 50 shows out of the 71 scheduled,” Da Vanzo said. “That’s pretty good considering everything we’ve had to deal with with Omicron and the isolation rules.” The cast included two “swing” artists, who fill other roles as needed, and an understudy was available to cover. Without them, “we would have lost even more shows,” Da Vanzo said. “Once Covid entered the business, it was very difficult to stop it from transmitting.”
The Christmas season at the Everyman and its partner theater Liverpool Playhouse was supported by a £283,599 grant from Arts Council England’s Culture Recovery Fund and Da Vanzo noted that the year’s VAT reduction last had also helped. This meant the theater did not need to apply for a share of the government’s £60million emergency funding announced in December to deal with the impact of Omicron.
The Perth theater was among the venues to cancel a festive mid-term show when new Covid restrictions came into effect in Scotland on December 27. Her Cinderella opened in November to rave reviews. Written and directed by naughty sister Barrie Hunter, it became the theatre’s best-selling panto to date and attracted audiences from surrounding areas including Dundee, Fife and Stirling, said managing director Nick Williams. “It’s a huge influx of people and the amount of money they’re spending is vital not just for us but for the city centre.” But on December 14, Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon asked people to minimize contact with people from other households. A 50% drop in sales followed, Williams said.
Restrictions introduced on December 27 to minimize the risk of transmission included physical distancing of one meter and a cap of 200 people in cinemas. Cinderella has become unsustainable: “everything has collapsed”. The Perth theater can usually accommodate around 500 people; its audience was reportedly reduced to less than 80. The theater was on track to earn 22% more revenue from its panto compared to 2019, but ultimately 40% of the run was cancelled. The impact would be felt year-round, Williams said, as public confidence had been shaken. The theater is waiting to see how much help will come from the Scottish Government’s mitigation fund.
New restrictions in Wales – including the same cap of 200 spectators but a greater two-metre social distancing requirement – led Theatr Clwyd to cancel Beauty and the Beast from Boxing Day until January 15. With secondary income from bar and merchandise sales, the theater expects a loss of over £500,000.
Even theaters that have canceled relatively few performances have felt the blow. Bristol Old Vic’s Robin Hood lost seven shows out of a run of 52. The theater took 70% of revenue it would have expected before Covid. Twelve performances of Cinderella at the York Theater Royal have been cancelled, with two additional shows added. But chief executive Tom Bird said attendance had been encouraging, with 64 per cent of this year’s audience making their first-ever trip to the York Theater Royal.
Other locations warn of an unstable environment caused by Omicron and the government’s Plan B. The Royal Exchange in Manchester canceled just a handful of performances of its Christmas show, but the theater said audience attendance had become unpredictable, with up to 40% of tickets sold out within 48 hours. before a performance. Before Covid the peak time for bookings would have been eight weeks previously.
When a show is canceled, buyers can usually choose a refund, credit, or donate the ticket price. Several theaters are reporting a drop in donations. “During the first lockdown, a significant proportion of people donated – it went down,” said Caroline Routh, general manager of the Stephen Joseph Theater in Scarborough. In 2019, Covid meant that her planned party show, Frozen, became more of a lively one-man show. In 2020, “we were able to go with a five-man show, which is our normal size.” Covid cases among the cast of Jack and the Beanstalk led to the cancellation of 14 performances, including during the busiest week ahead of Christmas, with an estimated loss of ticket sales of £35,000 . However, a grant from the Weston Culture Fund was used to cover the risk and the view from this seaside resort is quite different. “A lot of theaters are pressured on their Christmas show,” Routh said. “But we make our money in the summer.”