UK Theatre 2022 Cautious Optimism


Audience optimism that 2022 will see an end to all Covid restrictions has seen a dramatic increase, with the proportion of theatregoers feeling hopeful doubling in January compared to Christmas, according to data.

However, a fifth of respondents said they would not return to performances until they were more confident there would be no negative effects of reopening.

It follows an announcement from Boris Johnson on January 19 of an end to mask-wearing in theatres from January 27 as part of the lifting of Plan B restrictions.

During the week of Christmas in 2021, data showed a quarter of performing arts attendees expressed some optimism that life would return to ’normal’ in 2022. This doubled to 52% by the end of January.

The research was carried out by data analysts Purple Seven and consultancy firm Morris Hargreaves McIntyre as part of the UK Performing Arts Audience Survey, which is a rolling poll of audiences at 40 performing arts venues around the UK.

Participants were categorised by their ‘Culture Segment’, which is a tool that segments arts audiences based on their values and beliefs.

The largest shift in optimism came from the art-essential segment, who view culture as essential, with the proportion who feel optimistic about 2022 rising from 17% at the start of the year to 38% by the end of January.

The research also found that many 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%.

Analysis from the study over the period of November 29, 2021, to February 6 also reveals the caution some audience members have about returning to venues, with a fifth of respondents stating they will not return until they are “confident there are no negative effects of re-opening” or “until Covid-19 is under complete control”.

Medwen Roberts, director at Morris Hargreaves McIntyre described the upturn in confidence during January as “quite remarkable”.

“From an increasingly pessimistic picture in December, it has been heartening to see such a swift revival in optimism for the majority of respondents,” he said.

Roberts said despite the shift in positivity, performing arts audiences “still remain keener than UK governments” to implement mandatory vaccine passports.

“Venues would be wise to continue to demonstrate how seriously they take the safety of their customers,” Roberts added.

David Brownlee, managing director of Purple Seven, admitted it remained “a worry that a substantial minority of previous theatre attenders still do not feel confident to return”.

“The data shows these are not just older audiences but include previous customers from all generations. Arts organisations need to consider how best to encourage these customers back to their venue or how best to continue to serve them through digital content,” he said.

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