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Coronavirus and local theatres

Additional reporting by Alan Hulme and Sue West.

This was the first item run by Theatre Reviews North's newly-introduced news section in March 2020, revised several times after that as the pandemic progressed. As such is is now long outdated, but we have retained the text as a snapshot of the kind of devastation wrought by coronavirus on local theatres.

In the months since the the March lockdown, most Greater Manchester theatres – like others around the country – have been trying desperately to do two things: display their relevance to the communities they serve, and ensure they can earn enough money, or find the grants, to keep doing so when the current coronavirus nightmare is over.

Almost all our northern theatres have moved a lot of their work online and we don’t intend to try to relate what each of them is doing in any detail. We urge readers with even a passing interest in live performance to visit theatre websites (web links below) to show support and see for themselves how the ingenuity and creativity of performers and directors can comfort and inspire those restricted to their own four walls.

The two payouts from the government, so far, have allowed most theatres to breathe a little more easily, and at least a couple have asked directly for financial support through online funding campaigns, both remarkably successful.

Aside from the main commercial operators, most theatres are charities, mostly hoping that the public value them enough to keep them alive with donations – or at least by letting them know they are missed. If you can, add your voice, or your cash, to those of your fellow fans.

Manchester Palace, Opera House, Liverpool Empire

All Ambassador Theatre Group UK venues are suspended until January 17. Tickets will automatically be transferred to new dates if runs have been rearranged. Affected customers are being contacted by email with an offer to exchange tickets to a future performance; or a full credit voucher. Vouchers cover the full amount of the original booking, including any fees, and are valid to use as payment on future bookings for at least 12 months. The link below carries a full list of shows postponed, cancelled or rescheduled at each theatre.

More info here

The Lowry

The Lowry is closed until at least December 4 and live performances  – namely two Christmas shows, Sixand The Gruffalo – will return from December 4 (Gruffalo Dec 12), both using the large Lyric theatre. The centre is contacting everyone with tickets for other shows. The Lowry also has an emergency appeal to support its work in the visual and performing arts.

More info here


HOME opened on September 4 (cinemas, bars, restaurant), but live theatre, which resumed in October, suffered like everyone else when the second lockdown began on November 5. The venue is now streaming onlineall the shows that would have been seen on stage in November, but HOME has not yet announced a live performance resumption date (the end of the November lockdown is December 2, but actually still fluid). HOME would also welcome donations, see here.

More info here

Hope Mill

The theatre relievedly enjoyed its reopening production, Rent, on October 30 but its initial joy at getting back to business was dealt a massive blow when the new lockdown brought the curtain down again, killing six weeks’ worth of ticket sales. Hope Mill has recorded a performance of the show which will be streamed from November 27.

More info here.

Royal Exchange

For all its importance and size, the Exchange has been one of the quietest of local theatres in recent months. The building is closed but hasn't updated its plans since July, seeming to have no plan to open in the near future. The theatre has organised a small number of online entertainments and has started its own appeal.

More info here and here.

Royal Northern College of Music

The college is closed to students and the public until at least January 4, taking all tuition online and abandoning all planned events. In the meantime, each week the college is sharing music online from its archive of performances, as well as new contributions from staff, students and alumni.

More info here, and check the college’s YouTube channel.

Contact Theatre

Contact is running a range of online participation projects, workshops and events. The building, under reconstruction for the past two years, is now back in the company’s hands and plans involve a return to performances from early 2021.

More info hereand here

Octagon Bolton

The Octagon's £12 million rebuild should now be seen by the public from December 4 (or at least the theatre hasn’t announced any change from this due to the second lockdown), but the big opening show, One Man, Two Guvnors, has been pushed to next year (see separate story here). The theatre, which faces a shortfall of £500,000 this year, has had a flood of support from crowdfunding, and has kept fans entertained with a series of lively online events and news. Theatre bosses are keeping the public informed and entertained with Octagon Online.

More info here

Oldham Coliseum

The Coliseum hoped to reopen in November and even managed to replace its abandoned pantomime with an alternative Christmas show. But all its plans went bad when, less than two weeks after the season announcement, the second lockdown closed the theatre and caused the cancellation of the Christmas programme. There are now plans to reopen early next year. Like Bolton, Oldham has had great success with a Crowdfunding appeal, raising almost £40,000 so far.

More info here and here

Grand Theatre, Leeds

The Grand has closed its doors for November and at present has no plans for reopening. Its big show of the year, The Book of Mormon, due to be staged in April, remains in the diary for March 2021. Other shows have also been rearranged and several have been cancelled. Info here,

More info here

Leeds Playhouse

The Playhouse reopened briefly, but casualties of the second lockdown included a couple of highly-anticipated appearances by star names in the Bridge Theatre/BBC Talking Heads series. The next date in the diary in the theatre’s Christmas show, A Christmas Carol, though opening night of December 3 is only a day after the lockdown provisionally ends, so could be subject to change.

More info here

Blackpool Grand

The Grand revealed it was in dire financial peril and could close, after which more than 10,000 supporters signed a "Save our Grand" petition hereon The Grand has since been in receipt of almost £500,000 from the government’s recovery fund and seems stable for the moment, much reassured by the announcement of a Christmas panto show (from Dec 18), which had received thousands of bookings within days of being announced.

More info here

Storyhouse Chester

Storyhouse bosses were getting very worried about the centre’s financial viability until the government provided the £700,000+ needed to keep the venue safe for a few months. Storyhouse has announced a production of A Christmas Carol, opening on December 2, and expects this to go ahead even if it has to be put back (dates will be added to the end of the run if necessary). Ticket holders will be contacted.

More info here

Opera House, Buxton

The theatre (and associated cinema) are closed for the foreseeable future and haven’t updated their plans since June – like many theatres, the Buxton can’t survive on socially-distanced theatre numbers. Like many other theatres that basically exist as charities on box-office income, the Opera House would welcome donations or the writing off of refunds.

More info here

Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

The theatre is closed until the New Year and in August made 38 people redundant, though in October things were made easier with an £880,000 grant from the government’s recovery fund. All ticket holders to cancelled shows will receive exchanges, credits or full refunds. As many shows as possible are being rescheduled.

More info here

Clonter Opera Theatre, Congleton

The theatre is closed until further notice but artists were working behind closed doors until the November lockdown. The intended 2020 summer production of The Barber of Seville has been rescheduled to next summer. Anyone with tickets for postponed events will be contacted. Clonter has launched a series of online excerpts from its productions of the past nine years.

More info here

Theatr Clwyd, Mold

Wales ensured a short “firebreak” lockdown from Oct 23-Nov 9, so now again has a full selection of film and theatre attractions from mid-November, including a Christmas show (though not the planned Beauty and the Beast, which has been postponed until next year).

More info here

Everyman Theatre, Liverpool

Some performances intended for the second lockdown period have been rescheduled to later dates. Check the list in the link below, which has full details about what to do. Other shows, including the planned Christmas show Rock ‘n‘ Roll Panto, have been postponed until next year. Ticketholders will be contacted as required.

More info here

Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool

The theatre has cancelled all performances until December 11, and ticketholders can have either a full refund or exchange tickets for a later date. Christmas show The Royal Court Selection Box will go ahead and its run has been extended (Dec 11-Jan 9). Revised information is available on the theatre website here.

More info here


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