Louise Chantal, director of the Oxford Playhouse, says we all have a role to play in saving the arts in Oxfordshire

It will make a good play when this is all over.

It wasn’t even immediately obvious what was happening when the Prime Minister spoke on Monday afternoon. Many of us had already come to the decision that we would have to close our theatres, museums and galleries in the wake of Covid-19, but Boris Johnson’s appeal to the nation to stay away from public gatherings fell short of a closure order.

The cultural sector, along with restaurants, pubs and the entire hospitality industry, was left staring at the TV asking ‘what was that?’

We were still contractually obligated to provide a theatre for a sold out touring production, and to ‘choose to close’ could have incurred a six-figure liability for the Oxford Playhouse Trust, an independent charity with meagre financial reserves.

We made the decision to close not knowing what the full impact would be, but knowing it was the right thing to do to keep our audiences safe. It still isn’t clear whether we are in breach of our contracts with touring companies, or if the Government’s statement equated to ‘force majeure’.

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All our insurance policies are null and void in the instance of a national pandemic anyway. We rely on ticket sales for 80 per cent of our income, yet we have had to close for an unknown period without any other source of funding being available.

In the days ahead, it will be tempting to differentiate between what is ‘essential’ and what we can, as a nation, live without. The cultural industries may at first glance look expendable, and certainly in the queue behind health workers, schools, social care and other essential services.

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The reality is more complicated. Our creative industries are one of the UK’s leading success stories. They are vital, not only for our economy, but for our way of life, bringing communities together and joy to millions around the globe.

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Closer to home, the Playhouse employs over 100 people, all with families to feed and rent to pay. We put £4m into the local economy, pay taxes and maintain the fabric of a Grade 2* listed building.

At the heart of our work is a commitment to our local communities and young people and we work with some of the most vulnerable members of our community – including young carers, looked after children, and the elderly.

We run courses and programmes for everyone from two year-olds to audiences of dementia-friendly performances and asylum seekers. We are not an added extra to society – we are in the heart of the community and the community is in the heart of everything we do.

I am enormously proud of the positive impact the Oxford Playhouse has on the lives of so many.

The current closure is an existential threat to the theatre and all our cultural institutions. The arts community in Oxford is already close, but the last few days has seen us come together like never before. It’s not just losing a few performances.

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I think of The Story Museum, who were due to open on April 4 after a £6m building programme and a 10-year campaign, and whose very existence is now in question.

I think of Modern Art Oxford, who’s Chief Curator has been working on an international exhibition for the last three years.

I remember the thousands of children who take part in the Cowley Road Carnival – a rare multi-cultural and inclusive celebration of creativity within these ancient city walls.

There’s our ‘Knit and Natter’ group, who come together each week to conjure all sorts of amazing creativity while enjoying an outing to the theatre.

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I think of our 17-25 young company, rehearsing their showcase production of Faust for a whole year, and the Young Players’ Festival which brings together hundreds of children from all over Oxfordshire.

All gone. Every performance, every exhibition is years of work for tens of people, many of them self-employed on freelance contracts, all of which have now been postponed.

My challenge now is working out how to keep paying salaries when we rely on ticket sales for 80 per cent of our income.

We are, like most other theatres in the country, launching an appeal to ask our community to support us through these unprecedented times.

Right now we have the cash to cover three months’ running costs, but most of that money is advance ticket sales. We humbly ask those who can afford to do so to consider donating the price of tickets for cancelled shows to the Playhouse.

We understand everyone is worried about money right now, and some people would prefer to have their accounts credited so you can plan a trip to the theatre as soon as we’re back in action.

The theatres, museums and galleries will only close and our employees lose their jobs if customers insist on immediate refunds. It’s as simple as that.

Meanwhile, good luck to us all. The Shows Will Go On.

You can donate to the Oxford Playhouse by visiting


COMMENT: We must back Oxford's arts

THE story this week in the world of arts and entertainment has been one of cancellation and closure, writes Tim Hughes

Falling like skittles on a bowling alley, venues have been collectively shut and events scrapped.

This is bad news for theatre, gig, festival, concert and restaurant-goers, but it is disastrous for the venues, artists, actors, promoters, owners and the staff employed in the sector.

Many of these organisations are run on a shoestring and barely bump along the bottom at the best of times; now, they are left desperately trying to keep their heads above water, and their staff face real hardship.

Louise Chantal, the dynamic director and CEO of the Oxford Playhouse, has eloquently made her case for her beloved theatre, urging supporters not to claim refunds but to consider making donations to ensure its survival. Others have followed suit, with the Theatre Chipping Norton cancelling all public events, performances and workshops until April 26 – including events planned for Chipping Norton Literary Festival. Oxford's own Lit Fest is also off .

Like the Playhouse, they are both urging customers to refrain from refunding and instead consider making their ticket purchases a donation – or as box office credits on account to be used at a later date.

In response, Chippy has launched the appropriately-titled Head Above Water campaign to help the venue and its staff survive the difficult months ahead.

The Theatre’s Tess Brice told supporters: “Any amount you are able to donate will help us to survive this difficult time and ensure that our doors can reopen when it is safe to do so.

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“Thank you all so much for your incredible support of our theatre. We have managed to keep our doors open for the past 47 years and we want to keep them open for another 147! Let’s all look after each other and the theatre that we love during this scary time.”

She urged people to donate at chippingnortontheatre.com/head-above-water.

As with the Oxford Playhouse and Lit Fest, this should be considered by all who can afford it.

A little sacrifice now will ensure a lifetime of quality entertainment and maintain the rich tapestry of Oxford's cultural life.

To take the cash and run would amount to leaving the venues high and dry - and could see them having to make sweeping cuts or even disappear. Do we really want that? For many of us, it is the arts that brought us to this city - and make its daily annoyances, poor administration, constant traffic and high prices all worthwhile.

Without the Playhouse and its like, we would be a wasteland - a third rate provincial town with only faded comedians, cheesy musicals and awful tribute bands to look forward to.

The next week will be a crunch period for many other venues and festivals, which were, at time of going to press, still open and planning to go ahead.

Let’s all pull together and look forward to an almighty party when we reach the other side.

We’ll need them more than ever then!