Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum goes into 'hibernation' as Covid fallout hits stages

£700,000 loss forces landmark theatre to cancel entire 2020 programme in hope of emerging renewed next spring – and staving off financial fate of other venues

The Royal Lyceum theatre in Edinburgh has postponed all remaining performances and events for 2020 and told staff their positions are at risk of redundancy due to the impact of Covid-19, which has cost it more £700,000 in lost income.

The Lyceum announced it is to enter a “period of hibernation” as a building-based producing theatre, with artistic director David Greig saying he had to reduce the theatre’s wage costs in order to avoid its permanent closure.

Greig said: “Entering this period of hibernation will allow us to conserve the limited resource we have through the dark winter of Covid-19 and emerge, hopefully in the spring, with enough capacity to make theatre again with the brilliant theatre-makers of Scotland for the people of Edinburgh.”

The artistic director added that he had been left with the “stark choice” of either a redundancy process now to reduce our expenditure, or “total closure before Christmas – an alternative that would leave the Lyceum shut long after the pandemic has passed”.

The theatre is the latest cultural institution to have financial difficulties as a result of Covid-19. Both the Nuffield Southampton and Southport theatres announced they were going into administration because of the impact Covid-19 had on revenues, while the Royal and Derngate in Northampton, Shakespeare’s Globe and the National Theatre in London have all sounded warnings about their futures.

Hugo Weaving, Polly Frame and Keegan Joyce in Solaris at the Royal Lyceum last autumn.
Dark times … Hugo Weaving, Polly Frame and Keegan Joyce in Solaris at the Royal Lyceum last autumn. Photograph: Mihaela Bodlovic

Last week, the Old Vic’s artistic director, Matthew Warchus, told the Guardian that his theatre was in a “seriously perilous” financial situation because of the Covid-19 crisis. Warchus said that the UK’s furlough scheme, which has been extended until October, was stopping the theatre from “falling to pieces” – but, because many theatres don’t expect to open until 2021 at the earliest, more help would be needed.

“We are all puzzling away, thinking hard about how we can respond to this situation and what our creative input can be,” he said. “There are some bright people on those calls. We are mostly stumped because our hands are tied behind our backs: if you can’t bring performers and creatives together, with an audience, you’re incredibly limited.”

The Lyceum announcement came on the same day Bectu, the union representing media and entertainment industries, released results of a survey which found theatre workers are concerned about being “forgotten” once lockdown measures are eased.

Two stage managers in the wings of a theatre production looking at a video monitor of the performance
Tough challenge ... many theatre workers are still facing huge uncertainty, despite the extension of the furlough scheme. Photograph: Keith Morris/Alamy

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said: “The extension of the furlough schemes is very welcome, but many people are still facing a massive cliff edge with huge uncertainty ahead of them. As long as social-distancing restrictions continue to be necessary, Bectu is acutely aware that the challenges for theatres to open again grow each day.

“The industry is facing a potentially catastrophic impact from Covid-19, and government, employers and workers must come together to develop a strategy for our cultural sectors’ survival.”

The Lyceum is consulting with unions and staff about possible redundancies, and will offer full refunds for customers who booked tickets for shows that have been cancelled.


Lanre Bakare Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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