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‘I teared up, it was overwhelming’ — reopening of cinemas and theatre sparks strong feelings but the struggle is not over yet

  • Some are overjoyed and some doubtful about returning to indoor dining, cinema and theatre
  • Theatres will continue to struggle as they make up for huge losses  —  £200m across 165 venues, survey reveals
  • Actor Helen O'Hara talks about being back on stage at Hope Mill Theatre in New Islington, Manchester

(Film by George Crafer and Kiah Azriel-Freer)


It was a great night for Colin, the veteran Big Issue vendor.

He says he once taught Andy Burnham how to sell the paper and on the day lockdown restrictions eased to allow galleries and cinemas tom open, he sold 21 of his 25 copies in just over an hour outside HOME in Manchester.

“It’s good to be back,” he says.

The rain stopped just in time for the first night of indoor dining and cinema after months, and movie fans enjoyed the sun on the wooden steps of Tony Wilson Place.

Most were excited to get their freedom back, but we encountered sceptical voices, too. Listen for yourself:

While cinemas are up and running again, Manchester theatres are still getting ready for their return.

One of the first venues to stage a play is Hope Mill Theatre in New Islington.

Meet Me At Dawn will premiere on 25 May, telling the story of two women who are stranded on a lonely island.

Helen O’Hara is one of the two actors in the play.

After months of theatre lockdown, Helen said: “It feels amazing. It feels exciting and a little bit emotional to be back.”

Almost 300,000 theatre workers affected by the pandemic

She said she was grateful for the opportunity as many of her colleagues are still out of work.

According to The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, venues employ 290,000 people who have not been able to perform live in over a year.

In a survey by the same institution, 95% of the 165 participating theatres said they are worse off because of the pandemic, which has cost the industry an estimated £200m.

Freelancers have been hit especially hard and were often forced to find other jobs.

Helen, who speaks fluent German, kept herself afloat working as a translator — but theatre work is not just about money.

She said: “I took part in a little play reading club with a few colleagues and every other week we would read a play.

“That kept me going. It nourished me in terms of my theatre love.”

Entering the theatre industry could become harder for new actors

Even with restrictions lifted, she does not expect the industry to go back to normal immediately.

She predicts that theatres will rely on established actors and be careful which plays they stage in order to make up for lost revenues. This could make it harder for new talents to build a career.

But it is not all gloomy. Helen also said: “The pandemic has made us appreciate the arts more, how important they are for our mental health and wellbeing.”

Tonight, joy outweighs concern for the future — for Helen, for the stage manager at HOME, for cinemagoers, and for Colin, who, before the movies finish, has sold his last Big Issue.