Theatre Royal Brighton ready to reopen after 16 dark months

Infection rates are rising – and so too is confusion over just what is and what isn’t permitted.

Theatre Royal Brighton
Theatre Royal Brighton

But Theatre Royal Brighton – reopening on Saturday, July 24 after the longest period of closure in its history – is determined to take the pragmatic view.

They will have scenario D up their sleeve, but they will be enacting scenario A, says Theatre Royal Brighton’s theatre director John Baldock – in other words, they have got plans for all sorts of contingencies all ready if they need them.

And with all that planning in place, they can safely say: it’s wonderful to be back.

“I think we have got a myriad of emotions and feelings,” John says. “But the overriding one is that we are just itching to get back to doing what we love to do. We have got lots of safety measures that are being planned and plotted and we will have them all in place by the time we open. We have got enhanced cleaning and there are sanitiser stations galore. We are going ticketless to cut down on the amount of handling between customers and staff and we are going to be going cashless as much as we can, again to limit that kind of contact between people.”

And on the back of all that, they will open the doors for the first time in 16 months: “We know that we are just going to have to monitor the situation. We will follow all the government guidelines, though it is looking as if the guidelines are going to be much more localised. What is going to happen obviously is unknown. We can plan and we can think and we can put in place everything we need to put in place, but at the end of the day all we can do is just take things day by day and then just react to whatever arises. We just need to make sure that we are completely prepared.”

The great news is that bookings are good. There are very encouraging signs of strong confidence coming from theatre-goers.

“We have such a mixed programme. There are lots of shows where you can just relax and have a good time and be looked after and entertained and uplifted and all those things that have been missing from people’s lives.

“And I do think people are going to be appreciating it differently, the fact that they are seeing something that is actually live in front of their eyes, something that hasn’t been edited or Photoshopped, something that is real and happening now and that they are sharing it with an audience of people in the same room. And again, that is the thing that has been missing from our lives.”

So how has John survived all the traumas of the past 16 months?

“Lots of chocolate! Seriously, it has been very difficult, the just not knowing. We have had so many unknowns, so much uncertainty, but the Ambassador Theatre Group has been fantastic. They have looked after us all. We have been able to furlough people and to use the job retention scheme for all members of staff including the casual team which has been quite unusual. I am not sure all theatres have been able to do that.

“The winter was probably the hardest time. Going into an empty theatre is a strange thing at any time, but going into it in December when it should be full and it is cold and wet outside was really difficult.”

But since May the team has been reassembling, and John is delighted at the shows the venue has got coming up – after the theatre’s longest closure in its 214-year history. The longest previous closure was three months or so for refurbishment. Not even wars have stopped it in the past. In fact, as John says, during the Second World War, with London producers not so keen to put on shows in London, Theatre Royal Brighton enjoyed something of a boom time with the shows heading to Brighton instead.

John is now hoping there will be another boom time on the back of a great season taking us through into the autumn.

“Theatre Royal Brighton’s new season hosts a fantastic line-up of musicals including smash hit sensation SIX. We also welcome back Dirty Dancing, Hairspray and Rocky Horror Show, plus Heathers The Musical, the black comedy rock musical based on the 1988 film will visit Brighton for the first time.

“West End smash hit Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will also visit Brighton this Christmas.

“For anybody looking to be moved to the edge of their seats there will be a host of shows that will fright and delight in equal measure including The Classic Thriller Theatre Company’s The Cat and the Canary, The Woman in Black and Peter James’ Looking Good Dead. Looking ahead to the New Year, the theatre will open 2022 with the intoxicating new stage play of Fatal Attraction. Families can enjoy the return of the hugely popular Gangsta Granny and The Play That Goes Wrong, as well as a new instalment from Mischief Theatre, Groan Ups.

“The return of live theatre also sees the return of Theatre Royal Brighton’s price promise ticket deals. Continuing the theatre’s commitment to making theatre affordable for all, a limited number of tickets will be available for some of the most popular shows for just £13.

“The Theatre’s creative learning programme will return in September, offering activities and experiences which engage, educate and empower people of all abilities within the venue and local community.”