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Forever Plaid: Opening night became closing night… for now

Upstairs At The Gatehouse had been approved to stage shows safely

18 December, 2020 — By Richard Osley

Rehearsals of Forever Plaid

A THEATRE in Highgate village used the last hours before London was thrown into “Tier 3” coronavirus restrictions to stage a performance of a musical it hoped would be a Christmas treat.

The opening – and for the time being, closing – night ­of Forever Plaid at the Upstairs At The Gatehouse was brought forward after the government ruled that the infection rate was too high to allow pubs, restaurants and theatres to stay open.

The theatre now has to hope that the number of cases in the capital falls to allow it to reopen the show after Christmas.Theatre owners John and Katie Plews have earned a reputation for staging rave-reviewed musicals every Christmas, having turned a disused storeroom above the pub into a vibrant theatre 22 years ago.

Mr Plews said: “We can’t be angry. Gutted is the only quotable word for it. We knew there was a risk of this happening but we made a decision to try and put on the show. A lot of hard work has gone into it and we feel for everybody involved.”

The latest disruption follows a disastrous year for theatres which have needed arts recovery fund grants to help them during periods of lockdown.

Mr Plews said: “We can’t control Covid ­– that’s out of hands ­– but we have done what we can. We’ve spent a lot of money on Perspex, hand sanitiser and changing the fire escape to create a flow through the theatre. “It’s hard when you look at shops and shopping streets and see no social distancing and think: Well, we’ve done all this to make things safe but have to close.”

Friday night would have been Forever Plaid’s opening night.

John and Katie Plews at Upstairs At The Gatehouse

“The recovery grant has tided us over but we haven’t earned a penny since March and we want our income to come from putting on shows – that’s what we all love,” said Mr Plews. “I feel sorry for the freelancers that the industry relies who have had no support at all.”

He added: “The one thing I would say is that it does feel like theatre is down the pecking order. The DCMS [Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] is such a wide government department. “The clue is in the title and it feels that ­theatre doesn’t have the same lobbying power as some other areas. With sport, think of the lobbying power the Premier League has.”

Theatres in London must now wait to see if there is any relaxation of the rules as the tiers are reviewed.

“We just have to wait on announcements from Messrs Johnson and  Hancock,” said Mr Plews.

He thanked supporters of the theatre who offered donations before the recovery grant came through.

Forever Plaid was seen by the New Journal on its only performance on Tuesday. Our glowing review will be published in next week’s paper.

It stars Cameron Burt, a former student at Highgate School who grew up in Swain’s Lane.

He has already starred in Mamma Mia! in the West End and has been recruited to the new Frozen show that is due to open next year.

“It is a bitter pill to swallow,” he said. “We’ve been working so hard on it because it’s quite a complicated show with some tricky harmonies. We just wanted people to see it and hoped they would enjoy it. We hoped we’d at least get a few shows in but we have to now go with the announcements. I’m still optimistic we might be able to get back on in January.

“John and Katie are so committed to the theatre and the show. You see the faces of the audience here where it’s not so intimate in the West End. It’s a completely different feel and I was really looking forward to it. We’ve just got to hope.”

* A FRINGE theatre in Hampstead has re­launched its fundraising campaign after the Tier 3 rules announcement. Pentameters had been rehearsing four new plays celebrating 50 years of its theatre in Heath Street.

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