Andreas Ayling

Production Manager – Kunene and the King, The Ambassador’s Theatre, London

“I just remember watching Boris when he first said that immortal phrase along the lines of “don’t go to the Theatre but we’re not going to tell them to close.” My phone went off – it was my colleague from The Ambassador’s – and we just had a very nothing conversation were we just said “What are we doing to do?. 

That day, both Anthony [Sher] and John [Kani] were going to be off anyhow and as bizarre as it felt we just said “we’ll just close the show”. We only had two weeks of the run left and both Tony and John were in the high risk category so it just seemed the most pragmatic decision. There could have been some ground to do it with the understudies but the show was selling on Tony and John who had also written the play. Such a-beautiful and poignant piece, especially considering the Black Lives Matters protests and the way in which people of colour are seen.

Once we knew the show was closing it was a question of whether we could get staff in to buildings and we had to find out what the deal was with all the hire companies. One said “we have no space because everything is closing so you can keep it if you want” whereas another supplier said that until Boris declared an actual lockdown they were going to potentially keep charging for the equipment rental. The Theatre said we could leave everything there but there was a question of insurance.

We went for the option of the full get0out but we had to be done by 6pm because there was rumour that the lockdown was coming. During the get-out everyone was very much already sticking to trying not to shake hands or hug. It was bizarre: there were a lot of us who over such a short period of time had become close so it was weird when we saw each other not to hug or anything like that. We had all said that when we did the get-out I’d take them for a beer to say thank you for everything but when we finished it was like “well we can’t do that so see you at some point then. All the best!”. 

Obviously it was heartbreaking that the show was going to close early because it was a show that everyone loved and a wonderful show to be part of but it was the human side of things when you can’t properly thank someone like you would normally that really hit me afterwards. You know what they say: You don’t do theatre for the money you do it for the love and that’s true. I can’t imagine the next time I see my colleagues that I can’t give them a hug. 

We don’t even know when that will be.

I decided I would go and stay with my mum because she’s on her own. It’s great that people are able to spend more time together – families – but equally sometimes you just want to be on your own.  Luckily Troubadour had put me on a Contract so I’m on furlough and have an income so really all I have been doing is baking, daily walks and far too many Health and Safety courses that I never thought I’d be doing including new WHO ones and COVID ones. Just doing things to stop me from watching Disney or Netflix all day.

When we go back I would like to see the Theatres made more accessible in terms of both the spaces and ticket prices. On a bigger scale there are certain companies that will have to look carefully at ticket prices. For a family of 4 to go and see a new musical, it can cost £400-500. I completely understand why ticket prices have risen to where they are but it’s slightly worrying when you think that 15 years ago, a top price seat was £60 whereas now it’s upwards of £120 so it would be nice to see Theatre mad a bit more accessible to everyone. Broadcasts and NT live shows allow more people to see shows from one aspect so there needs to be a bit more of that and generally a bit more care given to the theatres themselves. The Ambassador’s is one of the most inaccessible in the West End: there’s no lift, there are stairs everywhere and the seats aren’t that nice so it needs a bit of love. Brighton Theatre Royal is a favourite and it’s got such a lovely history but if it wasn’t for the staff I don’t think anyone would tour there because it’s becoming harder and harder to get a show in that wont bring the grid down! With how things are going at the moment I think refurbishing and ticket prices are the last things that are going to change.”

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