West End producer Sonia Friedman warns theatre industry faces ‘chaos'

On Monday she won the South Bank Sky Arts Awards prize for theatre for Uncle Vanya.

West End producer Sonia Friedman has said the theatre industry faces “chaos” despite the lifting of coronavirus restrictions.

Friedman made the comment after her Sonia Friedman Productions company won the South Bank Sky Arts Awards prize for theatre for Uncle Vanya.

She accused to Government of providing a “lack of leadership” and a “lack of clarity” as coronavirus restrictions were lifted in England.

Olivier Awards 2017 – London
Sonia Friedman (Chris J Ratclife/PA)

When asked about what impact the rule changes will have on theatre, she responded: “Chaos.”

Friedman told the PA news agency that the “number one barrier” facing the sector is the lack of access to insurance for coronavirus-related disruption.

She added: “We have been told we can fully reopen but we are in the middle of a pandemic and so what we are needing from the Government is to sort out the self-isolation rules, expedite that, bring that forward for our sector.

“We are just reeling from day to day, from crisis to crisis.”

She also said face masks are needed “for the next few months, not because theatres aren’t safe, but because audiences need to feel safe and they need peace of mind that we have for this, and we have got this”.

Friedman added: “I think we need things like Covid certification, non-discriminatory, so audience members can come into the theatre knowing that the person they are sitting next to has either had a double jab, has had a negative test or has antibodies.

Olivier Awards 2019 – London
Sonia Friedman (Ian West/PA)

“These are very straightforward measures that could be put in place that they are putting in place in other parts of the world and I’m absolutely lost for words as to why our sector and our country has been left in this chaos right now, and I don’t really know what we do about it other than just keep going.”

Speaking at the awards playwright Samuel Bailey, who won the breakthrough prize, said the public “appetite” for the return of theatre is strong.

“I think the communal experience that we all get from theatre is impossible to replicate, really, as I think once it is safe for us all to be in those rooms and back with everybody together, I know people will come flooding back,” he added.

“I feel optimistic but cautious.”

The Government has given nearly £2 billion of financial support to the arts during the pandemic as part of the Culture Recovery Fund.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has been contacted for comment.

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