Dame Helen Mirren: Theatres need urgent help to preserve our nation's identity

Theatres want financial investment and clear dates so that they can plan ahead.

Dame Helen Mirren has called for urgent help for theatres – saying the “identity of our nation” is at stake.

Theatres have warned that, with live performances currently banned and after a lengthy period of closure, they are just weeks away from collapse.

Oscar winner Dame Helen, 74, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What is at stake … is the loss of a cultural history and an identity of our nation that is embedded in what it means to be British.

“One of the great contributions that our country has made to the world is through theatre, through writing and performing.

“It’s one of the reasons that many tourists come to Britain … It is a multibillion-dollar industry, but to me it’s so much more than that…

“It’s like what Venice is to Italy – that incredible beauty, history … and when Venice becomes flooded, Italy really pulls together to save Venice because they understand the importance of Venice culturally to Italy.

“And I feel the same about the theatre in Britain.”

The Government has published a plan for the industry, but theatres want financial investment and clear dates so that they can plan ahead.

Theatre owner and producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh recently pulled Les Miserables, Mary Poppins, Hamilton and The Phantom Of The Opera from the West End for the rest of the year, blaming “continued uncertainty” over when the Government will completely withdraw social distancing measures.

The Theatre Royal in Newcastle announced plans to make half of its staff redundant due to the impact of the lockdown, while Theatre Royal Plymouth started redundancy consultations following a plunge in revenues.

The director of the National Theatre, Rufus Norris, warned, in an interview with the PA news agency, that the pandemic is “likely to be devastating for this industry and consequently for the arts in the UK” without support.

While Nottingham Playhouse’s artistic director, Adam Penford, said that for “any theatre there’s a risk of … complete collapse and closure and then potentially never reopening.

“It’s stark and it’s real and it’s not far away.”

Dame Helen told the Today programme that theatre has a role in “the creation of community”.

“If we need community at any time, we need it right now,” she said.

“It’s what we need above all, that sense of community to fight against isolation, the feeling that you’re on your own.”

The actress, who was planning to appear on the London stage in January in a performance which she says has now been cancelled, added: “I often watch a movie and I realise halfway through that I’ve seen it once before.

“I’ve never forgotten a single theatre thing I’ve ever been to as an audience (member). I’ve never forgotten the experience, including the ones that I’ve absolutely hated, couldn’t stand. But it enters into your memory, into your being in a very different way.

“I think art forms in general in Britain have to have guidance … and huge investment really quickly because they are collapsing.”

Dame Helen, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of the monarch in 2006 film The Queen, said: “Until there’s a vaccine, that kind of (stage) performance is going to be very difficult”.

But she said people “who create theatre are resourceful, full of imagination and creativity”.

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