‘Absolute havoc’: concerts, musicals and plays forced to cancel after Covid-19 outbreaks

21 December 2021, 11:51 | Updated: 27 January 2022, 11:46

An empty Royal Opera House
An empty Royal Opera House. Picture: Getty

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

The music industry is facing another difficult month, with over 70 percent of events forced to cancel over the last week due to Covid-19 outbreaks among performers, and low audience numbers.

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Across the country, concerts, operas, ballets and plays are being forced to cancel at the last minute because of high Covid-19 transmission rates among performers, and plummeting audience numbers amid concerns over the Omicron variant.

This morning, chief executive of UK Music, Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, called into Classic FM’s sister station, LBC, to speak about the “absolute havoc” faced by the music industry this month.

Njoku-Goodwin said: “It’s been an incredibly difficult 20 months for the music industry, for the events industry, and for the wide hospitality sector.

“And this month was when we were hoping to recover it was when we were hoping to start making some money and income back. But the current situation is causing absolute absolute havoc.”

Read more: Warnings that music industry ‘will not survive’ as Omicron variant causes audiences to plummet

“We’re seeing high rates of isolation among staff, musicians, meaning many events are having to be cancelled. Even when those events can go ahead, the messaging from government essentially means that audiences just aren’t showing up,” explained Njoku-Goodwin.

“So there is a catastrophic loss of demand. The live sector says there are up to 50 percent audience no shows, and half of venues have cancelled gigs for January and February already.”

A snap industry survey by the LIVE, a federation of 13 live music industry associations, last week revealed that as well as 50 percent of audience no shows, 70 percent of organisers had to cancel shows which were meant to go ahead last week.

High-profile performances in the classical world have been cancelled including the Royal Opera House’s production of Verdi’s Nabucco, and the Royal Ballet’s annual The Nutcracker.

Performances of the Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker between Tuesday 21 December 2021 and Monday 3 January 2022 have been cancelled.
Performances of the Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker between Tuesday 21 December 2021 and Monday 3 January 2022 have been cancelled. Picture: Getty

Theatres have also been hit, with the National Theatre recently announcing that they were cancelling further performances until next year.

A similar situation is happening in London’s West End, with half of its theatres hit by Covid cancellations over the weekend.

Major productions including The Book of Mormon, Dear Evan Hansen, and Come From Away are all suspended until at least 27 December.

Elsewhere in the country, performances in other major UK cities are also being cancelled, including Six in Manchester, and the Edinburgh Playhouse has cancelled all of its shows after being hit by Covid.

Read more: What do the new COVID-19 restrictions mean for the arts this winter?

Several other cancellations are listed in the tweet below.

A call for support

Njoku-Goodwin concluded: “We may not be seeing a lockdown in policy terms, but we’re seeing one in practice in terms of what lots of consumers and what lots of the public are actually doing. And our sector is, is bearing the brunt of that.

“So we think it’s incredibly vital that while these debates about public health restrictions are going on, that the sectors that are being impacted by this debate... do get the support [they] need to get through this.”

And it seems help is on the way as chancellor Rishi Sunak has today announced an extra £30 million is being added to the Culture Recovery Fund to help the creative industry survive the devastation being caused by the spread of the Omicron variant.

This will enable more arts organisations in England to apply for support during the winter, at what would otherwise be their most profitable time of year. The Musicians’ Union welcomed the announcement, but has demanded financial support for freelance artists.

General secretary Horace Trubridge said: “Many musicians will have been relying on the festive period and the new year to provide much-needed funds following the devastating effects of lockdown. It is absolutely crucial to their survival that the government recognises the economic abyss that our world-class players, performers, writers and teachers are facing. They need support and they need it now.”