Suffolk venues forced to close as Coronavirus devastates theatres and cinemas
PUBLISHED: 14:27 17 March 2020 | UPDATED: 09:52 18 March 2020
Lucy Taylor Photography
The swift rise of the Coronavirus outbreak, the ease of transmission and the potential harmful effects have left the theatre and arts industry reeling.
Following the Prime Minister’s warning that in order to stall the spread of the infection we need to take social distancing seriously and not congregate in enclosed spaces, theatres in Suffolk and across the country have been forced, for the first time in peacetime, to close their doors.
It is hoped that this will be a temporary, short-term measure but at the moment no ‘all-clear’ date can be set and all local companies can say is that the postponement of productions will be reviewed on a regular basis. Although refunds will be available and some performances may be rescheduled, theatres are asking audiences to consider donating the cost of their tickets rather than asking for a refund in order to keep our regional theatres afloat.
The situation is very fluid but as of today the situation is this:
Ipswich Regent and Ipswich Corn Exchange:
Both venues are closed for the foreseeable future. Max Stocker, for Ipswich Borough Council, said:
“We have today closed the Regent Theatre, Corn Exchange and other public venues in line with new government advice in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus. We appreciate your concern about tickets and refunds but ask for your patience while we prioritise the closures and talk to promoters. Please do not contact the box office or venues directly but instead fill in the online contact form on our website and we will respond as soon as we can.”
Shows which may be affected include: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Paul Carrack and The Joe and Dianne Show.
The closure decision will be reviewed on a regular basis.
The New Wolsey Theatre:
The forthcoming productions of Macbeth and Oliver Twist have both been cancelled. The New Wolsey have posted this statement. “The upcoming performances of Macbeth and Oliver Twist have been cancelled. If you have tickets booked for these shows, or any others in our Spring Season, please refrain from calling us – we will contact you and your tickets can be refunded to your account with the New Wolsey Theatre. If you would like to cancel for shows further into the future, we understand and a similar process will apply.”
However, they added a plea to try and keep the regional theatre industry viable for the future. “However, as a registered charity, on certain shows we may ask you to consider turning your ticket into a donation if you can afford it. All donations for cancelled shows will be divided between the theatre and the visiting company. Performers and small theatre companies are particularly vulnerable at this time and we will do all we can to support them. We also want to ensure that the New Wolsey Theatre is ready to open again when the coronavirus crisis is over. Anything you can do to help, however small, will make a difference.”
They added that all creative learning work is suspended including Youth Theatres and the Stage Right Cafe will be closed until further notice.
Regional touring company Eastern Angles, based at the Sir John Mills Theatre, was supposed to be opening Red Skies, a story of George Orwell meeting Arthur Ransome at Southwold just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. They were due to be launching their spring tour at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket but have taken the decision to postpone the first part of the tour and will review whether the second part of the tour will go ahead at a later date.
Press officer Alyson Tipping said: “We are planning to do a closed opening before an invited audience but sadly that will be it for the time being. If the social distancing goes on for an extended period of time we will be looking to remount the play at some point in the future. Everything is very up in the air at the minute and, as you can imagine, it’s very hard to plan.”
She said that refunds would be available but, as with the New Wolsey, they would appreciate people, if they can afford to, to donate the price of their ticket to the company to see it through these uncertain times.
DanceEast is always a hive of activity with daily dance classes and regular performances as well as youth and community work. It was hoped that the Jerwood DanceHouse could stay open, particularly as they were hosting open days for their Centre for Advanced Training programme this weekend and would be staging one of the first performances of Mark Bruce’s new cinematic dance piece Return to Heaven.
However, the announced today: “In line with new government advice to stop the spread of the coronavirus, we have made the very difficult decision to close the Jerwood DanceHouse in order to protect the health and wellbeing of our audiences, participants and staff. All activity including classes, workshops, performances and events will be cancelled until further notice.
“Clearly, this is not a decision that we wanted to make, particularly at such short notice and we sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused. We will be in touch with further details shortly - in the meantime, please take care and thank you for your support.”
Home to the Aldeburgh Festival, the Snape Proms and a range of workshops and smaller performances throughout the year, the Snape Maltings have taken the decision to close its doors until the end of April.
Roger Wright, Chief Executive of Snape Maltings, said: “This is an extremely difficult time for people across the world. We are hugely saddened to be cancelling our music events over the next month but it is clear that cancelling gatherings such as these is necessary to protect our audience members, our artists and our colleagues here. This hiatus also includes our work in our local communities – with young people in Ipswich and Lowestoft, with people living with Parkinson’s and Dementia, and with people in the criminal justice system.
“Ticket sales make up nearly a quarter of our income, providing vital support for our wide-ranging programmes. We would be hugely grateful if you would consider donating all or part of the price of your tickets to help us continue our important work.”
The Apex, Bury St Edmunds:
Is currently still open but has no performances today. A decision on whether to cancel Kojo Anim: The Taxi Tour on Wednesday, Ian Ashpitel & Jonty Stephens as Eric & Ern on Thursday and BurySOUND 2020 Grand Final on Friday will be taken later today.
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Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds:
Suffolk’s Georgian playhouse has also closed with immediate effect. They posted this announcement online: “Following Government advice issued on Monday 16 March 2020, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds will now be closed up to and including Saturday 25 April 2020. All programmed shows, outreach projects, education & youth theatre workshops and theatre tours between today and this date will now be cancelled.
“Customers and visitors who have bookings for those shows, tours or workshops will be contacted as soon as possible. As an independent charity we will be appealing to customers to consider donating their ticket price (or a portion of it) to the theatre to help secure the future of the Arts, Culture and Entertainment in Bury St Edmunds.
“We will be reviewing this situation every 3 weeks and will make further announcements in due course. We have over 200 years’ experience of weathering storms here at Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, and whilst this is unchartered territory for us, the Board of Trustees, Management Team and all staff are determined to fight to ensure we have a theatre which will continue to entertain and educate audiences for many years to come.”
Ipswich Film Theatre:
The arts and world cinema venue is located with the Ipswich Corn Exchange and is closed for the immediate future because of the Coronavirus. Decisions about re-opening will be reviewed in the next month.
The independent Woodbridge cinema remains open but several of their Film Feast evenings have had to be postponed or cancelled. Manager Neil McGlone released the following statement: “Many of you will have seen or been made aware of the statement by the Prime Minister in response to the latest developments around the Coronavirus outbreak, scientific advice was now that people should avoid ’non-essential social contact’ and specifically mentions pubs, clubs, theatres and other social venues.
“He went on to say that he saw no reason at this stage to require such venues to close. This clearly leaves us in a very difficult position, and with an uncertain future.
“We are awaiting advice from the UK Cinema Association as to how we proceed but in the meantime both restaurant and cinema are open for business as usual.
“Everyone is always welcome at The Riverside, but please think carefully about visiting if you have any cold-like symptoms, especially coughs or elevated temperatures. In order to minimise the spread of the virus we would encourage our customers to use contactless or make card payments if possible.
“While we remain open we are unable to offer a refund where a performance is still going ahead. However we will happily exchange your ticket for a voucher which has no expiry date and can be redeemed against another performance of the same value.
“We have just been made aware that the Royal Opera House has closed with immediate effect which therefore means our live broadcast tomorrow and Sunday of FIDELIO will now not go ahead. As you can imagine this situation has put a lot of pressure on our box office staff so we would ask you to bear with us and we will be in touch with you as soon as we can.”
The seaside independent cinema also bowed to the inevitable yesyerday evening. They posted online: “Following the government recommendations about social distancing we have made the difficult decision to close Aldeburgh Cinema until we are told that it is safe to reopen. We hope that it will not be for too long.”
Highstreet cinema chains Odeon, Cineworld and Picturehouse are shutting all their UK screens immediately. According to industry box office reports many film fans were staying away from cinemas, with takings down 50% between Friday and Sunday compared with the previous weekend.
Red Rose Chain:
Community theatre company Red Rose Chain runs The Avenue Theatre, off Gippeswyk Avenue, Ipswich. The company are currently staging a series of performances around the work of the Witchfinder General.
Artistic Director Joanna Carrick made this announcement yesterday afternoon: “With the increasing spread of Coronavirus and concerns for the health and well-being of our actors, audiences and staff, we have made the difficult decision to postpone the performances of The Nightingale.
“We will be re-scheduling the performances as soon as the situation becomes clearer and will be in touch with further information when we have it. We hope you understand our decision, as the health and safety of our participants, audience and staff is our first priority.
“In this current pandemic it’s extremely challenging for independent non-profit theatre companies and we need your support now more than ever. Once we are back up and running, we hope we can rely on your generosity and support.”
The Festival is due to run from May 14-24. But, a decision is expected soon as to whether the event will go ahead because of the Coronavirus outbreak.
Southwold Arts Festival:
Although, the 2020 programme was only unveiled a fortnight ago. The organisers have announced on Twitter: “It is with great regret that we have decided to cancel the 2020 Festival. Coronavirus presents a unique challenge and cancellation is the most responsible action to take in these extraordinary circumstances. Hope to see you in 2021 26th June to 3rd July. Keep well and safe.”