In light of the latest government advice on Coronavirus (COVID-19), recommending that everyone avoids large social gatherings, a decision has been made to close London’s Old Vic Theatre. This means the venue’s production of Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles will be postponed until after theatres are able to re-open.
For the past few days the whole team here at The Old Vic has been working hard to ensure the theatre’s survival in the face of this unprecedented situation.
A statement from the the theatre reads: “At the heart of all of our decisions is the safety of our audiences, our people, performers and creatives. For over 200 years The Old Vic has been many things to so many people; a theatre, a pub, an educational hub, a civic resource.
“The last time we closed our doors was during the Second World War when our building was hit by a bomb, and even then this resilient theatre bounced back stronger than ever to become the home of the country’s first National Theatre, and today thrives as an independent, artistic powerhouse with a strong social mission.
“We will need help to recover from this situation. As an independent charity with no Arts Council subsidy, we have to make sure our 1,000 seats are filled each performance and on top of that raise an additional £4 million to keep making theatre and serving our community. If ticket income and donations were to cease this would be financially devastating for our theatre. We travel hopefully towards a regeneration of our theatre, and for the industry as a whole. For now, take care of yourselves and each other. And keep in touch.”
Artistic director Matthew Warchus adds:
“Last week I completed the fourth thrilling week of rehearsals for Amy Herzog’s radiant play 4000 Miles. With just days to go before delivering this production to a sold-out run of eager audiences, we are now regrettably temporarily closing The Old Vic so that we can play our part in slowing down the spread of the Coronavirus.
Interestingly, given this period of social distancing, 4000 Miles is a meditation on the distances between people – geographical distances, political distances, emotional distances and generational distances. It features the odd-couple relationship of a feisty 91-year-old New Yorker and her 21-year-old midwestern hippy grandson, both separately grieving and now thrown together for a month in her Greenwich Village apartment. There ensues a very funny and hugely moving examination of the interdependency of these two characters despite the gulf between them.
It is very rare indeed that the two lead characters in a drama are separated by 70 years, and it has been, honestly, an absolute privilege to be in the rehearsal room with Eileen Atkins and Timothée Chalamet as they built their beautiful performances together. And I think it is actually very powerful and uplifting to see that a large part of what’s motivating younger people to self isolate now is their consideration for those older people who are more at risk.
Is it possible that this hugely disorientating and challenging upheaval we’re all now navigating, separating ourselves off from each other on a local and global scale, will actually bridge some of the distances between us in the long run?
Theatre is brilliant at exploring this kind of big question. Contemplating complex, intricate and nuanced ideas is its forte… after all it has a couple of hours to play with unlike click-bait headlines or 280 characters. Theatre is also great at making us laugh uproariously, and weep deeply. It can be exciting, magical, celebratory and breathtaking. Above all it brings us together in the most empathetic and comforting way, and its fascination with the trials, tribulations and wonders of Life is itself a beacon of hope, wisdom, solidarity and optimism.
In other words, theatre is exactly what we need more than ever right now and our sadness at dimming the lights is immense.
Here at The Old Vic we promise to do everything possible to maintain some kind of meaningful connection with our audiences during this time and, with the help of our extraordinary staff, supporters and artists, I know that
we’ll be back, as strong and feisty as ever, before too long.
There’s a stunning poem, by Rumi, in the middle of 4000 Miles:
‘Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about’
Let’s all focus on coming through this separation with our togetherness intact. Even strengthened. Take care of yourselves and each other. Be creative. There’s going to be some great theatre on the other side.
I’ll meet you there.”