The bittersweet irony of Scottish stars saving English shows as Edinburgh theatres went dark - Liam Rudden

Edinburgh's King's Theatre, post redevelopmentEdinburgh's King's Theatre, post redevelopment
Edinburgh's King's Theatre, post redevelopment
My heart goes out to theatre managers and marketers everywhere as well as to all the stage crews, front of house staff and, it goes without saying, the performers.

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It must be a thankless task working in theatre or, for that matter, a music venue right now, especially here in Scotland.

The ever present threat that new restrictions could cause shows and concerts, treats folk have been pinning their hopes on as an escape from the stress of the times, to be cancelled or postponed at short notice lurks like an unwelcome phantom in the shadows of the wings.

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Last weekend I nipped down to York as I do every year to see the final day of Berwick Kaler's annual panto - Dick Turpin Rides Again, this time. The difference this time was that there was no Berwick and no Martin Barras, his sidekick, who I am old enough to remember as Ron Frost in the BBC hospital soap, Angels. Both were isolating, though thankfully showing no outward sign of the dreaded Omicron.

With all the Scottish pantos, productions so incredibly essential to the financial survival of every theatre, forced to cancel from Boxing Day due to government restrictions, actors Alan McHugh and PJ Corrigan were drafted in to replace them, learning their scenes overnight before joining the York company because, outside of Scotland at least, 'the show must go on'.

The irony of two Scottish stars being parachuted in to save the production was not lost on the York audience or indeed the performers who, having had their run in Aberdeen cut short, wove that fact into the script with a wry nod to the ludicrousness of the situation.

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Prior to the most recent restrictions, Edinburgh’s theatre's had just begun to find their feet again. Audience confidence was slowly growing again as vaccination statuses were checked on entry, paperless tickets became the norm, masks put in place and arrival times staggered. So it was in York where I felt just as safe as I had at the King's and Playhouse before Christmas.

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Speaking to London producers, having a second cast and guest performers on standby is already the new normal as we work our way through to the other side of the pandemic - certainly down south, at least.

On the West End, actors have returned to roles they last played years ago at 24 hours notice to come to the rescue, most producers accepting that cast infection and subsequent isolation and temporary replacement has already become the new normal.

Common sense tells you it's the only way forward. No matter how tight the backstage bubble is, with eight shows a week and on average 1000 people a show, it's only a matter of time before someone in the company finds the dreaded second line on their lateral flow test - that said, the Edinburgh King's managed to get through their curtailed run of Sleeping Beauty without one single scare.

However, I can’t wait for the day when all UK theatres are operating on a level playing field. The anxiety of Scotland’s entertainment industry is palpable.

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