Theatre / coronavirus

Coronavirus: Bristol theatres respond – and how you can help

By steve wright, Tuesday Mar 17, 2020

This story will be updated regularly as more venues inform us of their plans

Bristol’s theatres and comedy venues have given their responses to the latest Government advice, recommending that Britons avoid all non-essential travel and social contact.

Venues such as Bristol Old Vic, Tobacco Factory Theatres and the Wardrobe Theatre, and festivals, promoters and programmers such as Mayfest and Chuckle Busters, have all decided to suspend performances with immediate effect. And, with countless livelihoods – those of performers, promoters, venue teams and more – at risk, the venues have also recommended ways in which fans and would-be audiences can help, to ensure that theatres, theatre companies and others don’t suffer devastating financial losses during this time.

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Theatres across the city, including Bristol Old Vic, have suspended performances with immediate effect. Pic: Haworth Tompkins

And the main message is: if you can, please find a way to not simply request a refund for your invalid tickets, but rather donate the money back into the venues and their artistic communities. That will be the only way to ensure that a rich, but often financially febrile arts ecology remains (largely) intact.

The Wardrobe Theatre was among the first to announce on the morning of Tuesday, March 17 that it was suspending all programming until further notice – and to encourage audience members now finding themselves without a show to go to, to consider turning their refunded ticket price into a donation. That donation will be shared among the theatre and artists, “to ensure there still is a Wardrobe Theatre post-coronavirus.”

Matthew Whittle, the Wardrobe’s co-director, told us: “When a show is cancelled, a venue and a theatre company have already invested huge amounts of money into the project to make it happen – rehearsals, room hire, set making, costume making, marketing, etcetera. The performance is just the very last bit of the journey, where both parties get a chance to make some money back on all the money they’ve put in.

“So, without the chance to perform, huge numbers of us are losing money. Therefore if audiences are able to “donate” their ticket rather than claiming a refund, that will be the difference that ensures that some venues and some theatre companies are still around at all, once all of this is over.”


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Shortly afterwards, Tobacco Factory Theatres and Bristol Old Vic both announced that they were suspending performances until further notice.

Tobacco Factory Theatres explained: “The health and wellbeing of vulnerable members of our community is our highest priority and this should help delay the further spread of Coronavirus.

“We are currently working hard to reschedule upcoming performances, and all ticket holders will be contacted shortly. Please bear with us in the meantime.

“As a charity which relies on tickets sales for 75% of its annual income, there are enormous challenges ahead. With events closed and no audiences coming in, it will be increasingly difficult to cover our ongoing costs.

Tobacco Factory Theatres’ main auditorium: “With events closed and no audiences coming in, it will be increasingly difficult to cover our ongoing costs,” says the theatre. Pic: Hide the Shark

“Given the scale of this challenge, we are asking for your help. A donation of any amount will help keep our community-led, enterprising charity going through very uncertain times, and support artists who’ve lost work.” The theatre’s donation page is at

Bristol Old Vic announced similar plans, revealing that its productions, co-productions and visiting work, wherever possible, will be rescheduled into the coming year, and that Box Officer staff would be in touch with all ticket holders soon.

“During this time, we will work closely with other theatres, Arts Council England, Equity and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to ensure that the interests of the independent artists who provide the rocket fuel for all of our creative industries are protected,” the theatre said.

“We are also inviting our customers to consider donating the value of purchased tickets to the theatre to ensure that we can come back fighting fit once the crisis is over.” Customers interested in making a donation can head to and you can find BOV’s full statement at

Elsewhere Mayfest, Bristol’s brilliant biannual festival of adventurous theatre and performance, has also announced its decision to cancel its 2020 instalment. Mathew Austin and Kate Yedigaroff, co-directors of Mayfest programmers MAYK, issued this statement:

“MAYK is a tiny organisation that somehow manages to pull off a large international theatre festival. Our finances are perilous. We understand that many of us are facing financial difficulties right now, but if you’ve booked a ticket for the festival and are in the position to consider that a donation, we would be enormously grateful.

Bristol’s brilliant Mayfest is another casualty of the illness. Pictured here: Hofesh Schechter’s ‘Political Mother’ from the 2015 festival

“We pledge to pass on as many donations as we possibly can to the artists in the festival – many of whom are in a far more vulnerable position than us.

“And if you hadn’t booked your tickets yet and are in a position to make a donation, we’d like to invite you to donate what you would ordinarily spend on tickets. You can do this really easily at

“The cultural sector and the wider hospitality industry are in a critical moment. We are fortunate to be supported in part by Arts Council England, but many artists, freelancers and those working in pubs, clubs, and venues aren’t so lucky. We all need your support now more than ever.”

Ed Strong runs Bristol comedy promoters Chuckle Busters, who bring top circuit comedians to the Wardrobe Theatre, Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol Improv Theatre and 1532 Performing Arts Centre, all of whom except the latter have now suspended their programme. As a result, Ed has cancelled Chuckle Busters’ output until the end of May, which included visits from the likes of Jayde Adams, The Noise Next Door, Tony Law and Rhys James.

Jayde Adams is among the comics who’ll be missing from Chuckle Busters’ programme throughout April and May

Ed has added a donations page to the Chuckle Busters site at “The current situation is hitting all small businesses extremely hard, and we are no exception,” he explains. “We have had to cancel multiple shows already and many more remain uncertain.

“I know that everyone is feeling the pinch at the moment but if you have enjoyed our shows in the past and feel you can make a donation to help us carry on once this is all over that would be greatly appreciated. Every penny that you donate will go towards helping to provide top quality comedy shows for the people of the South West.

“Stay safe and let’s all try and look out for, and look after, each other.

“We’re all going to need a good laugh once this is over.”

Pictured top: comic Nish Kumar at the Wardrobe Theatre, 2019, programmed by Chuckle Busters. Pic: Adam Fung

Read more: Coronavirus live updates


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