A major tour of the hit stage musical Six, which had sold out several drive-in venues around England, has been cancelled due to concerns about local lockdowns. The concert tour, part of Live Nation Entertainment’s summer season, was due to begin next month and visit 12 cities, with performances staged at sites including airports and racecourses. The tour included dates in Liverpool, which is among the regions where Covid-19 infection hotspots are emerging.
A statement from Live Nation said the Live from the Drive In concert series – which was also to include gigs by Dizzee Rascal, Kaiser Chiefs and The Streets – would no longer proceed as planned because “the latest developments regarding localised lockdowns mean it has become impossible for us to continue with the series with any confidence”. Refunds will be issued directly to ticket holders within seven days.
Six’s producer, Kenny Wax, said on Wednesday afternoon: “We are so very disappointed to have received the news of the cancellation earlier today. The previous hour has been spent telling the 60 members of our company that the job they were about to embark on has disappeared. We thank them for believing that we could make this happen. We know that ultimately there is nothing more important than the safety and wellbeing of our company and the Six Queendom [the name given to Six’s fanbase]. We look forward to better times.”
Wax said that the Six tour had been designed not as a money-maker but to put dozens of freelancers back to work. Two separate companies would have visited different venues, following the latest government safety guidance and remaining in bubbles throughout the tour. Up to 300 cars were to be permitted to venues, with a maximum of seven audience members in each who could watch the show next to their vehicle. “So you’re kind of at a pop concert with your car,” said Wax, who likened it to a festival, with audiences picnicking and following the performance on giant screens. Similar drive-in venues have recently opened in London to offer live standup comedy performances as well as film screenings.
Wax said the cancellation underlined the “very volatile position” of the theatre industry, which is “not helped by the lack of clarity on insurance because the government won’t underwrite cancellation insurance. We have a big risk as we step off the edge of the diving board.”
The producer said that recent weeks had been “devastating” for the industry, with redundancy consultations announced around the country including at Manchester’s Royal Exchange, Birmingham Hippodrome and Newcastle Theatre Royal. He said the situation was particularly difficult for those starting out in theatre. Many freelancers have fallen between the cracks in the self-employment income support scheme (SEISS) because they have been self-employed for under a year. “On Six, several of our young company come straight out of drama school – we’ve given them their first jobs. They’ve got not tax returns to show past earnings. They don’t get anything.”
Six has had extraordinary success since it sold out at the Edinburgh fringe in 2018. Its premise is that Henry VIII’s wives have come back from the grave to form a girl group, reclaiming their stories in a live “histo-remix” gig. Created by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, the show ran at the Arts theatre in London’s West End from September 2018 to March this year, when theatres closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. The pandemic also cut short Six’s UK theatre tour, an Australian run, performances on cruise liners and its first Broadway production. Broadway’s shutdown was announced just hours before the musical was due to stage its official opening night.
Wax remembers meeting at the Broadway League trade association that day with dozens of other producers anticipating the impact of the pandemic. “I was sitting there thinking, our show opens in five hours. It’s a $5m production. I just want to get to opening night.” As he heard of a Covid-19 case within one Broadway show and other producers voiced their fears, he quickly understood the severity of the situation. Wax swiftly began to close his other shows, which include Mischief Theatre’s popular Goes Wrong series. “I think I pulled 12 of my productions around the world in 36 hours.”
Questions remained, he said, about how the package will be divided. “Is the Arts Council just going to look after the big theatres or will they find something to restart the production companies?” He suggested that the funds were designed to get organisations through to spring, when regular indoor performances could perhaps resume and “the industry can restart properly”. That approach, he said, “is not really aimed at putting work back on but ensuring that buildings around the country are staffed for when the chequered flag is raised. The problem is the flag can’t be raised unless independent producers have the money to put on new shows or restart previous ones … That’s money they have to find from nowhere.”
Theatre, he said, was essential to the recovery of central London. “If the theatres open, the tourists come back and the West End will be officially open for business. Theatres are the jewel in the crown of London and we need to get our tourists back in London as soon as it’s safe.”