The massive Ambassador Theatre Group is on the verge of making 1,200 casual and zero-hours-contract staff redundant - the biggest theatre-orientated lay-offs due to the coronavirus pandemic to date.
The news follows similarly devastating news that ATG partner Qdos, which mounts well over 30 annual pantomimes in many of the chain’s 40 UK theatres, might drastically cut productions this Christmas due to a lack of clarity from government on indoor performance guidelines.
The ATG decision affects staff once the government’s furlough payments stop at the end of this month. The company says it doesn’t have enough money to continue paying staff and meet its other obligations, because grants from the government’s £1.57billion arts bailout have yet to materialise. Though details of these are now starting to appear, the likelihood is that few institutions will receive money before October. Staff layoffs were one of the things the bailout announcement was intended to avoid, as once staff disperse, they can be difficult to reassemble.
ATG runs many of the UK’s biggest theatres, including those in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as several iconic West End theatres.
Qdos Entertainment was due to present dozens of star-name commercial pantos around ATG theatres this year but asked the government for clear guidance on anti-covid measures and capacity guidelines by August 3, so preparations could move into full swing. Guidance wasn’t received by Monday, which led Qdos to announce it would now review the status of its pantos theatre by theatre - a process that will undoubtedly reveal many intended productions will be unviable.
Qdos is currently advertising tickets for 13 pantos across UK theatres, one of which is one of the most unexpected.
Berwick Kaler, who produced and started in decades-worth of legendary pantos at York Theatre Royal before retiring in 2018, is scheduled to return this year in his own production of Dick Turpin Rides Again across town at York Grand Opera House. Four of his former Theatre Royal star team will join him.
But it now remains to be seen if any panto goes ahead in the city, since Kaler’s was announced in January, long before the lockdown occurred.