LONDON – As Andrew Lincoln performs on stage at London’s Old Vic Theater as Ebenezer Scrooge in “Christmas Carol,” he looks at the empty auditorium.
Viewers are behind the walls of the theater, in houses and apartments, watching the screens. In this pandemic year, the seasonal production of Charles Dickens’ classic by Old Vic is broadcast live until the night of December 24. Ticket holders around the world have tuned in via Zoom.
“It’s a very strange experience to do something theatrical on stage and then not feel the reverberation of the audience,” said Lincoln, a British actor who starred in the AMC zombie drama “The Walking Dead” for nine seasons.
But such is the reality of London’s West End during this holiday season. The Old Vic is among theaters trying to keep the flame alive. However, owners and producers warn that nine months of coronavirus-related curbs have left British theater on the brink – and the decision to close theaters in the capital from Wednesday could push them.
Christmas is usually a golden age for British theaters. Families flock to see pantomimes – a harsh seasonal performance combining fairytale plots with songs, satire and grotesque – and festive classics like “Christmas Carol”. Holiday income can carry places for the rest of the year.
This year, more than half of the UK population is under severe restrictions, forcing theaters, concert halls, art galleries, museums and cinemas to close their doors.
This includes London, where theaters began to reopen after a four-week closure of nations that ended on December 2. Then on Monday, the government struck tight restrictions on the capital due to an increase in infections.
Julian Bird, executive director of the Society of London Theater and UK Theater, said the decision would cause “catastrophic financial difficulties for places, producers and thousands of industrial workers – especially freelancers, who make up 70% of the theater’s workforce.”
Since Britain first blocked itself in March, theaters have found ingenious ways to continue working. The Old Vic has prepared the season of “In Camera” games, which take place on stage and are broadcast online. Other places began to reopen to a limited audience with a face mask and social distance measures were introduced.
Producers say theaters don’t have virus outbreaks and wonder why they have to close when big stores can stay open. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber said it seemed “arbitrary and unfair” to ban theatrical performances and let shopping continue.
Producer Sonia Friedman, whose show “The Comeback” was forced to end at London’s Noel Coward Theater a few days after its premiere, said audiences “left the theater uplifted, energized and remembered the power of theater and the crucial role it can play in peace of mind. community. ”
“Having it so suddenly, cruelly and illogically detached is heartbreaking,” she said.
The government has said it supports theaters from its £ 1.57 billion ($ 2.1 billion) cultural renewal fund.
The Culture Department said it had also set aside £ 400 million in emergency funding, “and will now use it to support organizations facing financial hardship as a result of closures and to help move back to a fuller opening in the spring.”
A glimmer of hope is that as a workplace, theaters can continue to create and rehearse. Old Vic’s “Christmas Carol” employs 80 people, including 18 actors and musicians.
It was a challenge. Actors and crew are checked daily and tested twice a week. Lincoln spent his time in London, far from his family. The performer must remain on the stage 2 meters apart.
Yet Lincoln says that the production retains the charm of Dickens’s story of a greedy man who corrects his ways after getting a supernatural journey through his past, present and future. The adaptation of playwright Jack Thorn has been an Old Vic hit for the last three Christmases. But this year it seemed unlikely.
In an interview with the over Zoom, Lincoln said the production took place “because (artistic director) Matthew Warchus did what we do. Lots and lots of Zoom calls are trying to save the theater and find out how the hell we’re going to move in this terrible year. “
Lincoln’s own plans, which include “Walking Dead,” have been prevented by the pandemic, although he hopes the film will begin filming in the spring.
“It’s a feeling that there is a certain feeling of positivity and the ride comes with vaccines,” he said. “Let’s hope there’s a real kind of sense of renewal.”
“We are very lucky that we are all working in the theater at this time in history.”
He thinks that the story of people’s redemption and interdependence has a special resonance in 2020, when “the world spent this terrible year together.”
“It’s challenging to try three weeks in masks,” he said. “(But) everyone came with such a will that we’ll just throw it away somehow and hopefully do something that’s exciting, exciting, scary and very touching.”
“It’s just a good thing we send to the world.”
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