Southampton's Mayflower calls for cash "lifeboat to ride the storm"

Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre has joined with Birmingham Hippodrome, The Marlowe Theatre, Newcastle Theatre Royal and Norwich Theatre to call upon the Government/Arts Council England for an emergency funding package in order to recover from closure due to Covid-19.

Wednesday, 10th June 2020, 7:20 am
Michel Ockwell, Mayflower Theatre chief executive

The five large-scale regional theatre venues, which are run as independent charities and receive no regular funding support from Arts Council England (ACE), have seen a loss of 96 per cent of their income since they were asked to close their doors in March.

This is the equivalent loss of £5.9 million per venue over a prolonged six-month closure period.

As the performing arts industry faces an open-ended period of closure, the five theatres have issued an urgent appeal to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Arts Council England (ACE) asking for emergency funding equivalent to the Emergency Response Fund made available by Arts Council England to their NPOs (National Portfolio Organisations ie venues already in receipt of recurrent funding) in order to help them navigate this crisis.

Michel Ockwell, Mayflower Theatre chief executive, said: “With a combined age of over 600 years, the five venues present a wide range of quality artistic work from both subsidised and commercial organisations and play a crucial role in sustaining a healthy touring ecology across the UK.

“They are vital to the regular touring circuits of major NPO companies including Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, Dance Consortium, Royal National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Welsh National Opera, Rambert, and many others.

“In 2019 the Big Five collectively facilitated the generation of £18.3 million in gross box office income for productions presented in their venues by ACE National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs). This represents collective reach of this work to 491,000 audience members and a collective total of 453 days across the five stages.

“Mayflower Theatre alone contributes in excess of £75 million to the local economy.

With a commitment to new work and community engagement, each theatre also delivers a rich programme of studio performances, artist development and community and education work. Last year they collectively invested just under £1.2m of their own funds to deliver over 9,000 events reaching approximately 585,000 people.

“So far the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has provided much needed support through the crisis. However due to the scale of operations, lack of annual public subsidy and higher reliance on ticket sales and self-generated income, the five venues are in desperate need of extra funding if they are to fully recover.”

Michel added: “As a venue, we are falling through the cracks of the emergency funding intervention and packages announced by ACE – a majority of this funding will go to National Portfolio Organisations.

“To put it simply, we need a lifeboat to ride the storm of this crisis. We give on average 25 per cent of our programme to the regular touring NPO companies including Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, Dance Consortium, Northern Ballet, Royal National Theatre, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Welsh National Opera and Rambert. In presenting these companies we support them to almost a quarter of a million pounds each year in lower financial retention and technical support. With pressures to drive ongoing annual cost savings it is sad to say that my commercial head will have to rule over my artistic heart. This will erode the healthy touring ecology of ACE-funded work.”

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

Mayflower Theatre is the biggest theatre on the south coast with 2,270 seats in the auditorium. Its aim is to bring a diverse range of shows to Southampton, and present a mixture of spectacular touring productions, from musicals - many direct from the West End – to dance, opera, drama, ballet and comedy. The theatre attracts over 500,000 customers each year.

The theatre is run as a charitable trust and does not receive direct funding from any external bodies, so all the money generated from tickets sales is invested back into the theatre, to support the community and education strategies and ensure the upkeep of the 92 year old Grade II listed theatre.

Norwich Theatre

Norwich Theatre is the largest arts organisation in the East of England, welcoming more than 450,000 visitors across its venues every year.

Made up of three venues, Theatre Royal, Playhouse and Stage Two, Norwich Theatre presents a rich and diverse artistic programme spanning the whole spectrum of the performing arts. It works in close partnership with a range of world-class artists and partner companies including Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, National Theatre, Northern Ballet, Rambert, Royal Shakespeare Company, Sadler’s Wells, Britten Sinfonia, and Glyndebourne.

Alongside its award-winning Christmas pantomime, Norwich Theatre’s expanding portfolio of co-productions includes work with Curious Directive, Lost in Translation Circus and Acosta Danza. The organisation also delivers an extensive Take Part programme of events and activities which sees more than 5,000 participants of all ages and backgrounds every year.

As a registered charity with no regular public funding, Norwich Theatre relies upon ticket sales, one-off grants, donations and memberships schemes, as well as its commercial activities from bars and restaurant.

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Granted its Royal Licence by King George III, Newcastle Theatre Royal opened on Drury Lane in Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1788 and established itself as one of England’s leading theatres. In February 1837, the theatre moved to Grey Street, a flagship building in Grainger and Dobson’s famous city plan. It features what is generally regarded as one of the finest theatre façades in the UK, later combined with a 1901 auditorium by one of the world’s greatest theatre architects, Frank Matcham, after the original interior had been destroyed by fire in 1899.

Over the centuries, many of the great names of the English stage have played at the Royal, from Keane to Irving, Olivier to Dench and the Hollywood greats Orson Welles, Charlton Heston and Jack Lemmon have also trodden the famous boards; Sir Ian McKellen has described the Theatre Royal as his favourite theatre. The Grade I Listed Theatre Royal today is both neo-classical monument and cultural engine, presenting the finest drama, the brightest West End musicals, the cream of the comedy circuit, award winning ballet and dance, family friendly shows, sensational opera – and (we think) the best pantomime in the country!

Newcastle Theatre Royal Trust Limited is an independent charitable trust, governed by a Board of Directors, which leases the Theatre Royal from Newcastle City Council on a full repairing basis at a peppercorn rent.

Birmingham Hippodrome

Birmingham Hippodrome is an independent charity on a mission to enrich the cultural lives of the region. Since opening its doors in 1899, it has been proud to play an important civic role in the city, and firmly aligns itself to Birmingham and the wider regions evolving ambitions. Drawing no regular income from any public grant givers, Birmingham Hippodrome fund its wide-ranging and varied programme of theatre, dance, festivals, education and community activities through ticket sales from our 1,800-seat auditorium, 200-seat Patrick Studio, catering offerings, hospitality events and fundraising. To learn more visit

The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury is Kent’s large scale, state-of-the-art theatre and engine house for the performing arts, welcoming audiences of over 400,000 every year. Situated in the centre of the beautiful cathedral city of Canterbury, we present a year-round programme of the best touring classic and contemporary theatre, musicals, dance, opera, music and comedy and we produce theatre at all scales for and with the young people and communities of Kent.


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