The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has announced that the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company will receive £19.7 million and £19.4 million loans respectively from the Culture Recovery Fund.
The loans are part of the £1.57 billion Government package of emergency sector funding that was secured in the summer to support culture and heritage organisations affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this week Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, visited the National Theatre to see the final rehearsals for Dick Whittington which has opened for performances this week. The Culture Secretary met joint chief executives Rufus Norris and Lisa Burger along with members of the cast and production staff working on the pantomime.
Speaking about the Cultural Recovery Fund announcement, Rufus Norris and Lisa Burger said:
“The National Theatre is incredibly grateful and relieved to secure this emergency loan from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund. It is a vital lifeline that will form part of our recovery, helping to ensure that the National Theatre will be here for culture and here for the nation, now and in the future.
“The NT’s impact extends across the UK and around the world, reaching millions of audience members and young people, and employing thousands of artists and freelancers every year. All of that was put under threat this year by the devastating financial impact of Coronavirus closures which cut off 75% of our income overnight. Despite the generosity of our audiences and supporters and the drastic action we took to reduce costs including – very sadly – job losses, we face a multi-million-pound deficit this year and next.
“The decision to apply for a loan of this scale was not taken lightly; it is an essential component in our survival. Together with support we hope to secure from our partners, donors and audiences it will enable us to invest in the freelance creative workforce to produce some of the world’s most exciting theatre.
“The Culture Recovery Fund demonstrates a clear recognition of the contribution culture makes to the nation. We look forward to continuing to work with Government to ensure this investment is built on in the long term and reaches all parts of our sector.”
Academy Award-winner Olivia Colman, who appeared in Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes at the National Theatre in 2017 said: “Theatre is at the heart of Britain’s creativity and the National Theatre is a crucial part of that, whether working with young people across the country or making shows to thrill global audiences. Alongside the grants to smaller theatres, it’s wonderful to hear that the NT’s future is being supported by this lifeline loan.”
The National Theatre closed earlier this year on 16 March following government guidance about Coronavirus. At the start of April National Theatre at Home launched which saw 16 NT Live and Archive productions streamed for free on the NT’s YouTube Channel reaching an audience of over 15 million in more than 170 countries. The NT reopened for performances in the remodelled Olivier theatre on 21 October with Clint Dyer and Roy Williams’ new play Death of England: Delroy, which closed early on 4 November due to new nationwide Coronavirus restrictions. The performance was filmed and streamed free on the NT’s YouTube channel on 27 November during the second national lockdown.
At the start of this month the NT re-launched National Theatre at Home as a brand-new subscription streaming platform making an initial 11 productions from NT Live and the NT’s Archive available online to watch worldwide, anytime, anywhere. This month filming has begun for the NT’s made-for-screen version of Romeo & Juliet with Josh O’Connor and Jessie Buckley which will air on Sky Arts and PBS in Spring 2021.
The Royal Shakespeare Company has been unable to stage full productions since the start of the pandemic, resulting in an expected loss of 86% income outside the RSC’s Arts Council England (ACE) grant, a loss of approximately £46 million for the current financial year. Throughout the crisis the RSC has used its reserves and ACE grant to support the company’s activity, alongside fundraising income from trust funders, donors and partners as well as donations from audiences, members and patrons as part of the Keep Your RSC campaign. The RSC also furloughed up to 90% of its staff, benefiting from the Government Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and is reaching the end of a formal consultation with staff on redundancies and changes to terms and conditions.
Since the temporary closure of the RSC’s theatres in March, the company has retained a company of 35 freelance actors and stage managers at the heart of its work, continued to support young people and teachers with its far-reaching education activity, celebrated the power of Shakespeare through initiatives such as #shareyourShakespeare, staged free outdoor summer performances in its Stratford-upon-Avon gardens, talked Shakespeare online with RSC alumni and audiences, and streamed productions for free on iPlayer.
The company is staging Tales for Winter in December and January, a season of events over six weekends based around storytelling. This repayable finance will ensure the company’s financial stability in the short-term helping the RSC to, amongst other things, stage the current programme of live streamed performances, open full productions in Stratford-upon-Avon and London in spring 2021 and recommence national touring with the RSC’s partner theatres.
Commenting on the announcement Gregory Doran, artistic director, and Catherine Mallyon, executive director, said: “We are relieved to receive news that the RSC will receive Culture Recovery Fund repayable finance following our application, and thank the government, through DCMS, for their significant backing. It has been reassuring to see the thousands of companies around the country receiving crucial grants over recent weeks. They are the lifeblood of communities, support the local economy and enable strong health and well-being of our towns and cities.
“It continues to be a challenging time for theatres big and small, and for all those in the arts and culture sector. We are very grateful for the support we have received from our audiences, donors and partners, but without any regular income from our work on stage, and currently no confirmed date for the full re-opening of the theatres, we must plan for a different future.
“The finance will help the RSC to recover, and in the medium-term reopen our Swan and The Other Place theatres which will remain closed in 2021. All our activity will increase the work available to our essential freelance workforce, which in turn supports the wider arts and culture industry.
“The loan agreement requires us to be financially sustainable by the end of the 2021/22 financial year so that we can move towards repaying the loan, together with the interest that it will accrue. Rather than being a grant, it provides cash flow to help with paying our essential expenditure during the crisis.
“Even when we reopen fully it will take time to return to pre-pandemic income levels. We will need to continue to make savings, as well as rebuild income, to cover the loan repayments, which will not be completed until 2040. This sadly means that we must complete our formal consultation with staff on proposed redundancies and changes to our terms and conditions. Combined with the loss of work and lack of income support for many of our freelance colleagues, this is a source of profound regret.
“We will reopen our theatres, and we will welcome people back to our buildings for full performances and for meeting together in our cafes, shop, restaurant and exhibitions, providing enormous enjoyment, supporting the regrowth of our local and national economy, and representing the UK on the world stage. We can’t wait for that time to come.”