Beverley Knight urges government to reopen theatres for sake of livelihoods

Performer stages protest to ‘go to bat’ for imperilled workforce overlooked by post-Covid reopening of schools, offices and pubs

Beverley Knight has called on the UK government to begin a viable programme of reopening theatres in order to protect the livelihoods of “hundreds of thousands” in the industry.

The performer posted an impassioned message on Instagram on Friday, the day after staging a silent protest in London’s West End alongside five other women, including the actor Dawn French and the producer Nica Burns. Knight said they were making a stand for those “who will lose their careers unless big names go to bat for them” and drew attention to the substantial number of freelancers working in the arts who have not received government support. Knight said that many in the industry “don’t understand why the public has been actively encouraged to hit the pubs and restaurants, get children back in school and folk back in offices while [arts workers] are not allowed get back to work”.

The protest was held outside the Lyric theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, one of the venues run by Burns’s Nimax group. Earlier this week it was announced that the Lyric would present a socially distanced 11-week run of the hit musical Six, beginning on 14 November. It will be the first musical to return to the West End since theatres closed in March.

Knight said that Burns was putting on Six “at a huge loss, just so theatre staff, actors, crew and creatives can earn something during this worrying time”. She also praised Andrew Lloyd Webber for his efforts towards reopening theatres. In July, Knight performed a concert at the London Palladium that Lloyd Webber used to demonstrate the stringent safety methods with which a production of The Phantom of the Opera was able to reopen in South Korea earlier this year without social distancing.

Theatre director CJ Ranger and the performers Melanie Marshall and Anna-Jane Casey also took part in the protest outside the Lyric. A similar event was held at the Theatre Royal Haymarket earlier this month by the cast of the musical version of Only Fools and Horses. “If it’s OK to go to the cinema, it must be OK to go to a show,” said its star, Paul Whitehouse. “If it’s OK to go to a crowded airport and sit on a plane for hours, it must be OK to go to a show.”

Theatres in England are currently able to open for indoor performances only at a reduced capacity. The government has indicated that any further decision will not be taken before November.

Knight, who has achieved acclaim in shows such as Cats, had been due to return to the West End stage next month in a new musical, The Drifters Girl, playing the manager of the successful vocal group. It has been postponed by more than a year due to the coronavirus.

She sent a message to the cast of Six: “I envy you but I am so, so happy for you. I’ll be there in that audience cheering you on.”


Chris Wiegand

The GuardianTramp

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