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Dame Judi Dench says theatres won’t reopen in her lifetime – and the reality is heartbreaking

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Hollie Richardson
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Judi Dench

The UK’s performing arts industry is in serious trouble because of lockdown. Dame Judi Dench has just explained the heartbreaking reality of what this means for its employees and the public. 

From 4 July, restaurants, pubs, libraries and cinemas will be permitted to reopen. It’s part of the government’s plan to ease lockdown restrictions and reboot the economy, which has been seriously affected since the initial Covid-19 outbreak. However, it is still not known when theatres will reopen, despite the performing arts industry taking a huge financial hit. 

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In a letter in The Times yesterday (Wednesday 24 June), heads of leading performing arts organisations said the public needs to start lobbying the government to provide “immediate and substantial” financial support to give them any hope of survival.

It came after the news that around 70% of arts venues are predicted to be bankrupt by the end of lockdown. Considering that the industry usually employs about 300,000 people and has £1.3 billion annual ticket sales, this is devastating news for the UK.

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Articulating just how critical this is for the industry, Dame Judi Dench has said she doesn’t think theatres will reopen in her lifetime.

“What’s so strange is that we imagine this is a temporary thing, this is happening just now, and when the pandemic passes, it’s all going to go back to normal,” she told Cathy Newman on Wednesday’s Channel 4 News.

“It will maybe for some people, but it certainly won’t for all of us in the theatre.” 

Dame Judi Dench with Sir Ian McKellen.
Dame Judi Dench with Sir Ian McKellen.

Dench went on to explain why she loves working in the theatre because “no night is never the same”. According to the actor, the excitement is “unsurpassable” to any other form of art.

“I can’t imagine Britain without its arts heritage,” she continued. “If the theatres now become dark, I don’t know when we’re going to get them back. We do need a big injection, I’m afraid. And I hope at some point we’re going to get it. 

“You can’t run a theatre, for instance, with people sitting six seats apart. You can’t run a theatre if it’s quarter full. It doesn’t just affect the public it affects all of us: the crew, the people who make wigs, the people who dress us…

“None of us have any security or knowledge of when it will come back.”

She added: “These are theatres that we rely on and it’s a desperate feeling. Will they ever open again? I don’t know – certainly I’m sure not in my lifetime…

“There are lots of other necessary things, I’m not saying it should be more prioritised than anything else, but it’s going to have a very serious effect on all of us.”

Find out how to support the performing arts industry on the Arts Council England website.

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…