Where are they now? Andrew Hilton – Music Director

We’re having to move out of our flat. It’s hard because technically I have no income. I’ve go two tours promised but are they going to happen? Certainly not in March / April when they were supposed to.

I remember when we spoke last, we were still hoping to finish the run at the Savoy… this time last year I would have thought it would be impossible to be closed for so long.

Now if someone said me me I had a definite job in August I’d go “Wow! That’s fantastic!”. 

Back in the summer there was supposed to be a big gap between the end of the Savoy and my next job – something like 6 weeks – and I thought “How will I cope without income for 6 months? How will I manage?” and here we are nearly a year later – still alive, still eating. Still not dead. 

I had a show that was postposed from last August to this August and now it’s been cancelled again. They had West End lined up and everything. They are just doing a 2 week workshop in April. 

I nearly did a panto. I had five pantos planned and this wasn’t even one of those: I got a call half way through November asking me if I was interested. It was one of the ones that was National Lottery sponsored. It was written and ready to be rehearsed and because Liverpool had gone down a Tier, they were convinced that they would too. I got to Manchester checked in to my hotel, went out to get food and the next morning, the tiers didn’t change so I got back on a train and came home again. I wasn’t even there 24 hours. It was weird walking along the streets because all the restaurants were getting fresh deliveries that morning assuming that they would be opening again. Such a waste.

I did go and see some shows: I went to see Brian (Connley) in The Christmas Carol and Cinderella and another concert and they were all very safe, very orderly. Good thing it wasn’t raining because you always had to queue up outside. In the Theatres we felt very safe, very secure. There waslots of free spaces around us and even in the smallest venue they were plastic screens. We really tried our best in the Theatre to make it safe.

The show at the Dominion didn’t finish their run – they got maybe four or five shows. It’s a shame they didn’t plan to stream it but you’re not going to make back you money by streaming. I also don’t understand people that limit tickets for streaming. I mean surely if you wanna sell a million tickets you sell a million and if any of everyone’s on a percentage or royalties then it’s better that way anyway. 

I did a drama school show at the Bridewell. The day Tier 4 came was our last night. I had all the crew from the 9 to 5 band in it and my colleague, Mark Crossland (international superstar that he is) playing keys 3 in this drama school show! It wasn’t big money but people were desperate to work. It sounded amazing of course! People have got to keep their muscles going. I shocked myself over the summer: I was asked to do one of those online concerts by Carrie Hope Fletcher (I’ve worked with her a few times). She sent me the music and I hadn’t played the piano for five months and I thought “I’m not match fit. I can’t go and do this” so I gave it to another friend of mine and then made a conscious effort to start playing the piano again. Of course by the time the drama school project came in I was absolutely fine. It took me a week to get back up and running. It’s not surprising that I had become rusty. I mean we don’t ever stop work usually. I used to get up in the morning, go to play at auditions for one show then rehearse another one in the afternoon, grab some food on the way to do 9 to 5 at the Savoy then go to the pub. Now I do a two hour zoom class one of the drama schools and I feel like I need a nap. 

I find on Twitter and Instagram with a community can be very negative and quick to judge. I’ve had to come off social media a few times just to give my head a break you know. Recently there was a witch hunt with a theatre that said they were going to open – not to the public but to do something behind closed doors – and people said “oh you’re breaking the law you shouldn’t be doing this” and so eventually they didn’t open. You never know: they might have been about to lose their premises and needed to make some cash plus they had been told what they were doing was legal by the council so it’s a shame that people were all so quick to pounce. 

As far as finances go, I spent all my tax savings so when I get my tax bill at the end of the month I can’t pay it because I’ve had to live off the money.

I wasn’t eligible for any grants. I applied for universal credit but I had too much in my tax account so once that was spent I finally became eligible but I had to first spend my savings. Well, they weren’t my savings they were for tax. I was spending money I would owe to the government in order to survive. At least I’ve had that: some people have had absolutely nothing. No help at all. I’m worried now because I’ve got this far but there isn’t anything left and we aren’t going in to rehearsals on March 15th, let’s be honest. I could’ve probably got to March 15th.

I’m coping though. We all have dark days don’t we? This lockdown is way harder than the first one. The weather was gorgeous we were out in the garden having cocktails it felt like it was short term and we’d be back at work soon. And then the one before Christmas was so short plus we had Christmas coming up: it was festive and it felt lovely. Now it’s just January blues times 100. But I get up earlier, I’m eating healthier. Max (the dog) gets very long walks. I’m also packing now for the move, bagging up some things for the charity shops. I might have to sell some of it. There are a few things I found that still have labels on that I’d never worn: a £90 pair of jeans that don’t fit me now that I’ve lost weight – I’d never dream of spending £90 on jeans right now. 

I think the hard day will be 16th of March – the anniversary of the day we closed.

We will still be in lockdown at that point – maybe not full lockdown but it won’t be back to normal – and that year marker’s going to be tough. I don’t think people believe that theatre shows will happen enough to buy tickets yet either: they won’t buy tickets until it’s actually happening because it’s just not right now: it’s not a fact any more. There’s a film called ‘Songbird’ and…just don’t watch it. Basically we’re in 2023 and we’re still in lockdown and no-one can go out without breathing apparatus. I had to switch it off. It was just too possible.

Some of my business friends say that people are considering not going ever going back to big offices. I mean when people can work from home why would companies do that when they can have workers spend their own money on electricity and water. For us it just doesn’t work: we’ve tried to do early stage rehearsals for a few things online but it just doesn’t work: you can’t sing together. Zoom does not work for theatre.

I was thinking about starting a campaign to switch all the marquee lights off outside the theatres because when everything else was open – the cafes and bars during eat out to help out – I heard lots of people saying “Oh look, all the theatres are open” and of tourists were saying “Oh we should book to go and see that” because it looked like it was open but it wasn’t. 

When we got that 1.57 billion I had loads of family who you think would know better saying “oh so you’ll be fine then – how much would you get?”. They thought all the musicians and actors were going to get a little cheque and I mean none of us has really got any of it – barely even the theatres.

I don’t think the British public really get it so I think we need to raise awareness about the fact that theatres certainly aren’t safe financially. 

What do I hope for when we come out of this? If you ask me on a down day I’d probably say “Is theatre going to coming back at all?”. If you’d asked me yesterday I would have said “We won’t have big audiences, we’ll just have streams and one-off concerts” but today I’m feeling a bit more positive: theatre will have to come back. You work and strive towards Broadway and the West End – I toured for many years and probably will again this year – but we all aim for this pinnacle of British Theatre that was world-famous. We were there doing it and I want to go back to doing it. I want it to still exist.

Where are they now? Jen Raith, Stage Manager

With one month to go until the anniversary of the closure of theatres at the start of the pandemic, we are getting in touch with some of the cast and crew featured in the book to see where they are now.

First up, we talk to:

Jen Raith, Stage Manager

I am working in Tescos now […] you have to make sure only one person from a household comes into the shop, make sure they’re definitely wearing a mask […] I can’t begin to tell you the abuse I have had from customers. It’s disgusting. Some of the general public can’t be trusted and we’re on our third lockdown because of it.

There’s been so much that’s happened since we last spoke in June. I’m working at Tesco’s now.  We were in Scotland and stayed there until the end of July purely because of the lockdown rules there: we couldn’t leave. Martin had been at home working night shifts just to keep the pennies coming in. He was on a temporary contract and that was coming to an end so the purpose of me coming back was trying to get things back to normal-ish. I figured I could try and find some work and we could split shifts and take care of childcare between us. So when things started to relax at the end of July – it was exactly four months since we arrived – we headed back down. Phoebe was 7 months when we went to Scotland and 11 months when we came back so that’s a long time: a big growing process for a baby so Martin did miss out on all of that but for me and my Mum it was time we never would have had so there was a huge silver lining through all of this. We had to remain as positive as we could.

Since then, things have had to changed so dramatically for us: we’ve had to move to Bristol: we couldn’t afford London any more. Not with two incomes from theatre. Martin was relying on pirate crew jobs when things started to move again in the industry but it still wasn’t enough for London. We were eating in to our savings – as most folk were – so the ball started rolling at the start of August and we then moved at the end of October. We chose Bristol to get closer to family and so we could rely more on them for childcare.

We didn’t know if there was any work going to be coming in. I applied for Tesco’s before I even left London. The week before we moved I got a call from the big Tesco Extra down the road and they had me on a seasonal contract until Christmas and now they have just put me on as permanent staff, which is perfect. With everything building up to moving there’s been lots of positives – even Christmas – we were going to have Martin’s folks up but when we know we were going into another lockdown we thought it’s fine – it’s just a day, a weekend. We’ll just do it next year when we can. So none of that has been upsetting and we thankfully had each other: myself, Martin and Phoebe.

I have to admit though it’s the last month that has really got to me….oh dear…I’m going to get upset. It’s just been hard. You see they have this person in Tesco’s called a ‘door greeter’. You’re standing at the front door saying hi to everyone who comes in but since the new guidelines you have to make sure only one person from a household comes into the shop, make sure they’re definitely wearing your mask, so you’re like the fun police. I am happy to talk to people and have a friendly chat but I can’t begin to tell you the abuse I have had from customers. It’s disgusting. Some of the general public can’t be trusted and we’re on our third lockdown because of it. My employers have been brilliant – the management are so supportive and you’re PPE’d up to the hilt – I’ve got a mask, a shield, gloves. They’re constantly putting you on breaks so you can wash your hands. It’s mainly – weirdly – the elderly who give us trouble, would you believe it? It’s the cantankerous old men who say it is just a guideline and not law. I’m there thinking “We’re doing this for your sake! I’m standing here on minimum wage and it’s not me who has made up the guidelines”. Of course I’m an employee so it’s not worth losing my job over. You know we’ve all had to adapt and change because of this and we’re now in this position where we have no [theatre] industry because we can’t trust the general public. It’s shocking. Sorry.

I’ve been able to share some of my frustration with colleagues – a lot of them are now friends. There are all walks of life working there now: there’s even a guy who worked for British Airways who’s got no industry either so everybody’s got a story through all of this. Some of them have been there 17 years and some of them have been there 7 months. You can at least laugh with these people. When I get home, that’s when I get properly angry and upset. My whole world has been turned upside down: we’ve moved cities and every step of the way we’ve remained positive and said OK we’ll need to adapt – which is what we do in theatre – we adapt, we change, we move on – and then you see this happen and you ask why? We’re frantically trying to vaccinate the elderly and roll it out before another variant comes along and I’m trying to stop watching the news so much but and when you’re missing an Industry….it’s just hard to see people act like that.  I mean I’m sitting here getting upset because I’m talking about it now but actually Martin is on good form, Phoebe is doing well and on a daily basis we’re like a very well oiled machine. Thank goodness for Martin. He is so strong and all I need to do is come home and vent at him for five minutes and then I’m done. I’m usually Mrs positivity: I always think there’s some sort of silver lining – and that comes from my mum and my sister, Pamela, my God, she’s high on life but even she has had her moments and that’s not her.

Also, the government haven’t been hard enough. Even Priti Patel admitted that we should have shut the borders last year and I thought ‘How dare you? You’re supposed to be the person in charge of this. I feel like they all just need to bloody resign and we need to start afresh with a new team because it’s in such a tangle now.

It must be hard for parents who are homeschooling and there are children who still don’t have laptops. We are year on from this and these promises from the government still haven’t happened. We’ve got Phoebe in nursery now: she’s doing two days a week. We were um-ing and ah-ing about it but it came recommended and they are amazing with all the covid rules. She’s had no baby groups and no interaction with other babies up until now and she loves it. Now I can say to Tesco’s I can definitely do two mornings a week. Without sounding selfish, it is a bit of a sanity in itself – you’ve got 8 hours a week that provides a bit of routine to keep to. We are creatures of habit in theatre anyway: we like a bit of routine. Martin and I never get a day off together now though so I just hoover.

My mum’s had her vaccine. She got it at the start of January. She’s actually about to retire – that was always going to happen. March was going to be her date for retirement. She was stuck in Scotland on her own for Christmas and they were properly locked down but she didn’t bother with it really. She just had a little dinner on her own. But poor thing she’s been on her own up there and it’s been snowing and icy. She does have support in the village where she lives but where in the summer they could go and sit in each other’s gardens, in the winter all they can do is wave through the window. But thank goodness for technology we can show her Phoebe growing up as well. Before now it would have just been phone calls – or even letters.

We’ve not seen much of our local area at all because we’ve been in lockdown since we got here. You are get stuck indoors most of the time with this. We literally have a triangle of Martin’s work, which is about 8 miles away, the nursery and Tesco’s. I’ll drive out and drop him and Phoebe off then go to work. We’ve got a little playpark nearby and we’ve got to know the neighbours from afar: we said hi over Christmas but we’ve not seen much. If the weather is decent you have to try and get out and about because otherwise you’d just go mad wouldn’t you. 

Around the time we were moving I ended up speaking to a cast members from shows gone by and they were all anxious, working for delivery companies like Amazon and that sort of thing and my advice to them was if you can get back to your parents do it. There’s no shame right now. At least you’re not on your own. I mean, I did it: I went back up to my mums and I’m almost 40 for God’ sake. I mean it’s your parents that’s what we do as families. You’re still their baby at the end of the day. 

It’s good to have a plan. I think I will come back to theatre eventually but right now with Phoebe I just don’t want to yet. I don’t feel like I can give 60 hours a week to a Theatre. At this stage I’d much prefer to have family time and use this as the excuse for taking that time: to get Phoebe into school and then start thinking about it again. Weirdly it’s like the universe and our little universe aligned nicely. But that’s not to stop us from dipping in to theatre here and there if we were able to do something part time. We’ve got theatres just down the road. We’re also just down the road from a clothing company that was started by two of the cast of 9 to 5 so I could ask them if there’s a possibility of working with them. We were in a good place with friends and colleagues when it all shut down so here’s hoping that in 3 or 4 years we can go back. We’re not a million miles away from London either. 

Hats off to everybody who gets involved and these shows that get up and running. They’ve got nerves of steel I don’t have the nerve for it right now. I’ve got my strength in my family and my little bubble but I’m rooting for everyone from the sidelines. If we can get back up and running that’s superb and I am on everybody’s side. I know we’re in this for the long haul and I do believe we can adapt but we just need to pull our socks up a bit – the general public and the government too.

Jen Raith

Stage Manager – 9 to 5 Musical – The Savoy Theatre, London

I’m at my Mum’s. It was the safest option. We’ve been up here since the week the theatres closed, around three days before the lockdown. I think for a lot of folk – especially those with family – they’ve gained time that they wouldn’t normally have had. Mum’s a nurse and she works part time at the hospital still so she’s been worried about patient contact but she’s been nowhere near Covid patients because the hospital where she works is really well organised.

I went back to work when my daughter was ten weeks old. They managed to put me back in part time which was ideal. It’s the future of things I think as well. Before this all kicked off, the management were talking to me about future projects and being part time – letting somebody else start it and go through tech then coming in afterwards, even as an Assistant Stage Manager (I wouldn’t have minded) – before she (Phoebe) goes to preschool anyway. There are a lot of employers who can’t see how it can work especially as a stage manager but thankfully the team were very willing to do it help out to get us back. Matt Cullum (general manager, ATG) being a parent himself wanted to be an advocate of the job share. That approach was gaining traction and I was enjoying going part time and working out how to do it with Phoebe. That’s all been quashed now though! It’s just too uncertain and it’s not just worth the headache on top of trying to bring up a little one.

It’s been lovely being a full time Mum. I’m not going to complain. She’s a lovely baby – so chilled out. Because we’re not at any toddler groups or anything I have been putting on programs from the BBC so she can see the other babies. You know this: dealing with a baby is a lot easier than dealing with actors that is for sure.

We’re lucky because Martin’s a doer. He was with FOYS up at Harry Potter on the Monday when we were sent home and by Wednesday evening he had a new job. He ended up working for DPD doing overnight shifts for about three months. It sent him loopy but he just had to find work. He’s just been picking up odds and sods like everyone else at the moment just to keep money coming in so he just stayed in London and we haven’t seen him for four months. Four months in a baby’s life is big you know. She was seven months when she left and now she’s nearly a year old. We video call every day but you can’t get a sense of what she’s like now physically. We’re going back down south on Thursday and he’s going to see a huge change in her – all these steps that she’s taken since she’s been up here you know, crawling, all these words and she’s starting to toddle now. It was the most sensible thing to do though.

Nicola Sturgeon has been playing it sensibly safe and we’ve felt very secure up here. I think it would have been a very different story staying down south with Martin going to work every day during the spike, not knowing who he’s meeting. I’d be very different person. We’re still wearing our masks and gloves but I think I would be more neurotic about it if I’d been at home in London.

We’d gone in to work and had set up the show on the Monday and we were going about our business as normal. It was odd because we were all getting information on the news but we didn’t really realise the extent of it I don’t think. They had been saying it was a bit like SARS and it’s one of those things that will just disappear and then it was ramping up and getting more serious in Italy. There had been word that London might lock down but again there was nothing one the news, nothing from the government to say this was about to happen. We were getting word throughout the afternoon that folk were being told not to go in to work. Cameron Mackintosh shut Hamilton in the afternoon and Nica Burns followed suit. Harry Potter was another one – Sonia Friedman had Pulled theatres on Broadway the week before so she was prepared.

At five o’clock, Sarah (Whalley, Company manager) came down and said “Matt’s on his way down. I think we’re about to get some news”. We then knew what that meant but the cast were thinking “Oh my god we’re shutting early!” because usually when the general manager comes to make an announcement that’s what it is. When he arrived he talked for about ten minutes, explaining the discussions that had been going on during the day with producers and Westminster. Matt told us that due to circumstances we couldn’t let audiences in and they wanted to make sure that we were safe. At that point he didn’t have any more information – not even about the rest of the week – and he said they would be in touch.

Within the hour, the iron had dropped and everybody went outside and headed to the pub. We only went for a couple because all of a sudden there was this reality hit that it was actually getting serious because we’d watched it all on the news and we knew there was a severity to this but we didn’t know how severe. Sitting with us all talking over that pint, it suddenly drummed it home that it was bigger than we had all expected. I had all the ASMs with me and they were all asking what I thought was going to happen. My opinion at that point (and it turned out to be correct) was that I could imagine the producers being quite frightened because they’d not been told by the government to shut down and they wouldn’t know where the or not the insurances would cover them. I did say at this point I thought it would be a couple of months. The fear suddenly set in. We all had the same question: what’s going to happen next?

We kept in touch over the coming days. I went in on the Wednesday to do a tidy up of batteries and make it safe but there were minimal folk in. And coming in from Beckenham – well, you know what it’s like in the centre of London at six in the morning on a Sunday: it’s dead. Well that’s what it was like in the middle of the week at ten o’clock on a Wednesday. It was bizarre – like 28 days later. I had to walk over Waterloo bridge that day and it was deserted. Really odd. There was nobody on the train, nobody on the tube. That was my weird moment in all of this. It was abandonment, like everybody had just jumped away. I was away by one o’clock in the afternoon. I said goodbye to everybody and then just had to go with the flow.

I don’t reckon I will go back to doing what I did before. Not right now. I don’t want the uncertainty as a freelancer. I’ve always felt lucky doing what I do – I’ve had no gaps: I’ve always gone from job to job and I’ve met some amazing people – but the kind of things we can deal with on our own without family involved I can’t deal with any more with my daughter. I just need to have a break with all of this going on. In a weird way it’s come at a good time in her life: she’s a baby, we’re not having to worry about schools and things. It’s given us time to spend together and get through some of these milestones so in a very strange way, the universe has worked in our favour because we can take a break and take a step back and use this time for family. And that’s the way it should be.

It’s an odd situation that none of us will ever ever be in again. It’s going to be so hard to explain to people. Not even in World War II did all the theatres shut down. That’s bonkers. And we’re not the only industry that’s been affected but we’re so lucky that as a community in theatre we band together so well. Look at what we’ve managed to do: we’ve made it onto the news, the unions have been on. There are thousands of people in the UK who don’t have that camaraderie so we’re very lucky to have each other.

With any luck the theatre world will come back bigger and stronger because we’ve now got the opportunity to start from the ground up again and I’d rather come back into an industry at a level where everybody’s comfortable and you’re not fighting for the jobs. My CV’s not going anywhere. I’ll just take everybody for pints. Thanks how my career started: by taking everybody for a pint so I’ll just carry on doing that again!

Howard Harrison

Lighting Designer – Blithe Spirit, Duke of York’s Theatre, London

We had opened Blithe Spirit the week before so I was actually at The Garrick working on City of Angels but bizarrely I had just been for a meeting earlier in the day at the Duke of York’s on the Monday we were all sent home. Believe or or not, the two theatres are actually connected: you can actually get from one to the other if you go up to the top floor. At one point they were sister theatres and used to share a stage door. We had done Blithe Spirit this time last year in Bath and it then got mothballed until January when it went out on tour in an adapted version. Then of course it came into town at exactly the same time we were supposed to be at the Garrick doing City of Angels so I spent less time there than I would have liked to because the other show was very demanding but I had very good associates and it all went very smoothly. I kept turning up at breaks and everybody said “What are you doing here?” so I just came back to the Garrick. For me it was a weird thing having two shows going on back to back at the same time. Two such different shows – two completely different teams with different atmospheres – it was kind of extraordinary.

The week before, you just knew something was about to happen but it was interesting to see how everyone reacted to it that day: the various factions and disagreements about whether we should perform. We were having a conversation about it and trying to decide what to do but then the government broadcast came out and there was no decision to be made after all. If it was a play, the history of that day would have a rather anti-climatic ending!

I presume at the Duke of York’s they also didn’t play that night either. It was a very happy show, Blithe Spirit: It was a lovely company and it was a very pleasant experience – a very good production. The backstage image sums up Blithe Spirit to me because it was all very naturalistic so we wanted to hide the lights from view. Jennifer [Saunders] was a very good company leader and she was incredibly good in the show – as was everyone -so it was terribly sad that it turned out to be such a short run. It was only due to be there for eight weeks or so and it was sod’s law that it was doing incredibly well. I presume the set’s still sitting there. 

Who knows, maybe it will come back again. It was supposed to close in May and there were another two shows backed up going in there. Absolutely choc-a-block. I don’t know what’s happened to those shows – whether they will reappear. That’s the thing: we just don’t know. There’s a big question mark hanging over all of us. Weird times indeed and one day we’ll probably all go “Where were you when…?’. 

Looking at the image from the circle, it makes me think that someone is about to take the iron out and it’s all going to be fine and everyone’s going to be on stage and we’re back to normal. I think we’d all hope that when we go back, we’d want to return to an enlightened version of where we were. I think there are a lot of things about the world that will need to change. I think the lockdown and the virus has pointed out to us that the way the world works is not great and we could do with being aware of this and starting again. However I think in the Theatre everything was going pretty well. It was pretty healthy, everyone was going to the Theatre: it was good, So I think in the meantime it would be great to think we’d go back to the way things were but maybe we never will so who knows?

Obviously it was terribly sad with City of Angels because it was a great show and we’d all been working extremely hard on it. We’d got so far and to get that close to the finishing line was desperately unfair. We were shut down on the Monday and we were supposed to open on the following Tuesday so we were eight shows away from opening. I think there’s something quite poetic about that. People will say “You did the show that never opened.” It will become the stuff of legends.

Andy Evans

Head of Sound – Kunene and the King, Ambassador’s Theatre, London

I’m back at home in Llanelli, South Wales with my parents and I’m relaxing into it for now. I did have to leave the London flat: I was one day away from signing a new tenancy agreement. I had already had my next work contract but had started to feel like the coronavirus was gaining ground and was going to impact us sooner than we thought. I phoned Regents Park and asked if they thought the season was going to go ahead. It was a nervous answer understandably. A friend and I had decided to treat ourselves and get a really nice flat for once and live a little ‘high’ life for a while. I mean why not after sixteen years working and living in run of the mill London accommodation. But without a guarantee that the season would go ahead I couldn’t sign the agreement then risk around about 7 months of work being wiped out It was a lucky escape because the season was later cancelled. At the end of April I managed to get a six month contract working for the NHS at my local hospital. The contract takes me to the end of October. I was thinking I would finish in time for the Christmas season but that’s not looking great at the moment either unfortunately. 

There was a murmur the week before [the theatres closed] among the company and it was starting to become something that they were beginning to be more concerned about. Our two main cast members were elderly actors from South Africa and with the rumour that there was going to be a lockdown, the company manger was worried about flights getting cancelled and them not being able to get back to their family and homes. They were also were really vulnerable to the virus too. On the Monday, everything was sort of as normal until about 6pm when the company manger came down and said that although she hadn’t heard anything officially, the front of house manager had come to speak to her because they had information that the whole of the West End was going to get shut down that night. Until she received something solid she couldn’t action that so she called us all to the stage to inform us of what she knew. Just before the doors were due to open, we were told that we were going to have to cancel the show. We were planning on coming in again the next day as normal but two hours later, once more information had started to come through, the producers stated that the rest of our run was to be cancelled. Ten minutes later the news came that every performance in the West End was not cancelled that evening and would likely not perform again anytime soon either.

There was a moment of reflection on stage and a weird silence for a little while as the scale of what was happening settled in then obviously we went straight to the pub, The Two Princes, for a pint. By the time we got there, the ‘City of Angels’ band were already there and then ‘The Mousetrap’ cast came in and our team from ‘Kunene’ were there too. That in itself was surreal: during audience walk-in time we were in a pub! Because the guys behind the bar knew who we all were (regular regulars), they let us pour our own pints for a while so that was really fun but felt like there was a bit of a storm over us. There were people visibly upset because the Mousetrap cast were really close to the end of their 6 month contract and the feeling was that was that. There were musicians with their guitars and keyboards and I think they knew immediately it wasn’t going to be just a week or two: it was going to be longer haul and they could maybe teach online. A lot of people were worried about their immediate future, financially especially. At this early stage there had been no support announcements (although a fair few of us have fallen through that support system now anyway) I could see it in their faces and their eyes – they wanted to go home and gather their thoughts. It’s a lot of information to take on board and process suddenly. You start thinking about the next 6 months straight away: what if there isn’t any work? Am I going to be financially OK? Are my kids going to be supported ? It was a very peculiar and overwhelming evening. We were together and talking and trying to offer advice and support for going forward in differing scenarios. I must have spoke to a dozen people that evening in depth about what had just happened. It was comforting that we were all in the same boat and could relate and respond to concerns. There was a feeling that London was going to be the first city into total lockdown and that you might not be able to travel so it felt like an Apocalypse: the invisible war…which is what it is really. At kicking out time it was really strange: the streets were just quiet and we knew that this was way more serious than we had thought. The place was usually littered with audience members pouring out and getting in the way of us reaching tube stations. That night there was nothing. Silence, an eerie silence. Like a ghost town. 

I sometimes think about what the theatres are like inside without the people. How quickly does a theatre become uninhabitable? It’s only been three months but it’s going to be longer: nine months, maybe a be a year for some theatres so how much will it then cost to get it back to a state where you can use it again? The Ambassador’s is riddled with mice and they’re brave. I was putting someone’s mic on one day and the mouse just popped up and started eating the grapes on the table. They’ve gone from only coming out at night to wandering around in full light. They must be having a party right now. They don’t know what’s going on now.

When you think about a pandemic we are not classed as essential by the government. But it is essential to all of us who are working in the industry. I knew that, along with pubs and gyms, we would be the first to go and we’d be the last to be back. That was quite a worrying thought. Even more worrying is that we aren’t seeing anything for us on the news or from Boris [Johnson] about the Arts. I’ve not once heard anyone talking about the creative industries and what help can be given to them financially or when they might think large gatherings might be ok again. There have been no guidelines as to what social distancing measures will need to be in place so venues can start to judge whether it’s financially viable for them to do open nor any offers of support from the government in doing that. It’s more difficult to be optimistic when the people running your country aren’t giving you anything to hope for. When the furlough starts tapering…who knows what will happen? The deterioration of our optimism along with our theatres and performance venues? I’m determined that there will be a way. It may not be perfect but just something. We all love this industry and we’ve all been in it since an early age and for it to be in such jeopardy and to have nobody at the top really talking about it or talking about how they might support it…it’s heartbreaking. You think it cant happen: we’ll get bailed out but not at the moment. Theatres and venues are closing up and down the country already. This week producers have started to put redundancy packages together which means they will have to go through the whole process of re-hiring with interviews and auditions etc. [Cameron] Mackintosh this week are making decisions and putting hundreds of redundancy packages together and that means everything is in jeopardy – their mortgage, way of life, child care etc. That’s such a massive thing to happen in someone’s life. I do question yet slightly understand producers motives for staying closed and not wanting to adapt the venues for social distancing measures, especially the larger producers. It’s their job to look at numbers. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we work when we do go back. The main thing is that everybody feels safe when they go back: safe enough to do their jobs. Trying to adapt venues would cost a lot of money – money they really don’t have, especially considering how much has been lost of late too. There will need to be changes in seating; hand sanitiser everywhere; new rules for the toilets; more staff. But I also applaud innovation and motivation. As an industry we’re a really close-knit group and even though we might not see each other regularly, there are a lot of amazing brains and passionate people out there. I wouldn’t go back just yet though. It’s more to do with protecting vulnerable the people. There are a lot of people I care about – family and friends – who are vulnerable. Because we’re still in the midst of it, I wouldn’t want to be in an environment that could re-ignite infection. As much as I love this industry, everyone’s health is more important.

We’ll find a way: we still need to keep hoping and fighting and get our voices heard but I know a lot of my friends are having a really hard time at the moment. We may be past the peak but we’re still in mid-air and the uncertainty is what is causing the anxiety and that’s not going to go away. I just hope that those people have had the right support through this. I also hope that people that struggle with their mental health are doing as good as they can be. I often suffer from anxiety, and I’ve had some really tough days, this time more than ever can induce a lot of worry and anxiety and I hope everyone’s head space is keeping as healthy as can be through this turbulent time. 

We just seem to be unimportant to the government. What do we do? Do we protest? We need to use the biggest voices in our Industry: the Dame Judy Dench figures of this world*, like Marcus Rashford did: he managed to overturn a government policy within 24 hours. We need to stand together and try to use the voices among us whether it’s as a collective or as individuals. This is has rocked our industry to the core. The pandemic and the now lack of support after it. It needs attention soon.

*Dame Judi Dench has since spoken out expressing her deep concern for the situation