UK theatre industry sees cautious optimism for 2022

Critical Overview:

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the performing arts industry, leading to the closure of venues, cancellation of shows and significant financial losses. In recent months, there has been an increase in optimism among theatregoers in the UK that 2022 will see an end to all Covid-19 restrictions. According to data from the UK Performing Arts Audience Survey, the proportion of performing arts attendees feeling hopeful has doubled from Christmas to January. However, the research also reveals that a significant number of respondents remain cautious about returning to venues and that many still favour the mandatory use of Covid passports.

Shift in Optimism:

The data shows that during the week of Christmas in 2021, only a quarter of performing arts attendees expressed some optimism that life would return to ‘normal’ in 2022. However, this figure doubled to 52% by the end of January. The largest shift in optimism came from the art-essential segment, who view culture as essential. This group saw the proportion of respondents who feel optimistic about 2022 rising from 17% at the start of the year to 38% by the end of January. Medwen Roberts, director at Morris Hargreaves McIntyre, has described this upturn in confidence during January as “quite remarkable.”

Concerns about Negative Effects:

Despite the increase in optimism, the research also highlights the caution some audience members have about returning to venues. A fifth of respondents stated that they will not return until they are “confident there are no negative effects of re-opening” or “until Covid-19 is under complete control”. This suggests that while many are hopeful about the future, there is still a significant level of concern and uncertainty among theatregoers.

Mandatory Use of Covid Passports:

The research also found that many respondents are still in favour of the mandatory use of Covid passports at theatres. During the week beginning December 20, 2021, half of respondents “definitely agreed” Covid passports should be compulsory, and a further 30% “tended to agree”. By the end of January, the “definitely agree” response had fallen to 30%, while the “tended to agree” response remained at 30%. The data shows that performing arts audiences “still remain keener than UK governments” to implement mandatory vaccine passports.


The research carried out by Purple Seven and Morris Hargreaves McIntyre highlights the significant impact that the Covid-19 pandemic continues to have on the performing arts industry. While there has been an increase in optimism among theatregoers in the UK, the data also reveals that many remain cautious about returning to venues and that the mandatory use of Covid passports continues to be a contentious issue. The research suggests that arts organisations need to consider how best to encourage customers back to their venues and how best to serve them through digital content. It also highlights the importance of venues demonstrating how seriously they take the safety of their customers to address concerns and build confidence in returning to live performances.