June 10, 2020 / 3:33 PM / a month ago

The show can't go on - bleak times for London's theater people

LONDON (Reuters) - Rehearsals had been going on for months and opening night was just a week away when the coronavirus outbreak forced the theater to close.

Wife and husband actors, Rosalie Craig (L) and Hadley Fraser, unable to perform in lead roles in the West End musical 'City of Angels', following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), sit for a portrait in their garden in London, Britain, June 5, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Actors Rosalie Craig and Hadley Fraser were due to appear in a production of the musical “City of Angels” at the Garrick, one of many theaters in London’s West End district, when the government shut down entertainment venues on March 16.

Since then, like thousands of actors, directors, musicians, sound and light technicians, make-up artists and people from all the professions that make London one of the world’s most vibrant performing arts centers, they have had no theatrical work.

“We were very, very proud of the piece,” said Craig in an interview in the garden of the home she shares with Fraser, her husband. “We got it to a point where we were so excited for people to see it.”

The giant billboard advertising the show is still up on the darkened theatre’s facade, but no one knows when or even if it will finally open.

Fraser said that as actors, the couple were used to fallow periods when they were out of work or in between jobs, but at least there would be auditions going on, future productions in the pipeline, the hope that something would happen soon.

The current limbo, he said, was completely different, and it was very hard to come to terms with the uncertainty.

For Rebecca Kane Burton, chief executive of LW Theatres group which owns seven West End venues, the abrupt loss of income is a huge headache, but she also worries about people and productions that might be lost to the London stage for good.

“Performers want to be on stage performing and doing what they do best, and I would hate to think we might lose some of those amazing performers,” she said in a video-conference interview.

“The reality is some of them are stacking shelves at Tesco’s (supermarket) at the moment,” she said.

LOST TALENT

The fallout from the lockdown will be felt far beyond the West End, said Matthew Warchus, artistic director of the Old Vic theater, because of the web of connections between theater, television and film.

“Writers and performers, choreographers, directors, designers - many of them start off in theater,” he said, adding that many were freelancers who were not benefitting from a government furlough scheme.

“What’s going to happen to them? They’re not able to work now. How will they sustain a career going forward when they have been hit in this way? So this is going to be a major depletion and knockback for all of those platforms.”

Craig and Fraser, who have already built up successful careers, remain hopeful that they will be back on stage at some point, although life could look very different in future.

“We’ll probably end up doing other jobs and coming back to the theater as well,” said Fraser. “I’m imagining that’s what’s going to happen.”

Slideshow (3 Images)

Craig said she still hoped “City of Angels” would go ahead, although she did not think it would be anytime soon.

“When it does come back, wow,” she said. “I can’t imagine what that will feel like for everybody.”

“We will probably all die of the adrenaline,” she added, laughing.

Writing by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison

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