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National Theatre accounts illustrate scale of pandemic “crisis”

The UK’s Royal National Theatre saw its finances decimated during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic with income halving and down by more than £50m.

In its accounts for the year to March 31, 2021, the London theatre and wider group registered income of £54.8m, compared to £106.4m in the previous year. The theatre was closed for the full financial year, other than a few performances in October and December, having shut its doors on March 16, 2020. It began the process of reopening in full in April 2021. During the course of the year, an £80m Recovery Plan was established, comprising self-help measures of £20m, Government loan support of £20m, and the launch of a £40m Major Funding Campaign.

Box office had been the biggest segment in 2019-20, making up 51% in total. In 2020-21, National Theatre, West End and UK touring receipts were down to £900,000 from £38.8m.

The largest contributor was fundraising, which accounted for 35% of income during the year compared to just 12% in the prior period.

NT Live & Digital accounted for 5% of income in 2020-21 at £2.6m, compared to £9.0m (8%) in the prior year. The company ran its free National Theatre at Home service from April 2020, which attracted 15 million views from more than 170 countries. It saw an 817% increase in NT YouTube subscribers and 1.6 billion impressions through its social media activity. National Theatre launched a subscription service in December 2020, which had 20,000 subscribers, of which 40% were international subscriptions, within seven weeks.

Some 31% of income came from an Arts Council England Grant of £17.0m, with the £16.7m in the prior year just 16% of income. Some 11.8m (22%) of total income came from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Expenditure was down 57% to £47.8m from £110.4m in 2019-20. National Theatre performance made up 33% of that figure, compared to 27% (£29.7m) in 2019-20. Spending on support and premises grew from £8.8m to £11.9m, while NT Live and digital expenditure fell from £8.3m to £2.9m.

The group said total group income of £56.3m and expenditure of £51.6m generated a positive net movement in total group funds of £4.7m. It said this relates to the early success and receipt of funds relating to its two-year Covid-19 recovery Major Funding Campaign, along with monies received through the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme.

Sir Damon Buffini, the chair of National Theatre, said: “The year 2020-2021 was one of unprecedented change. When theatres closed overnight in March 2020, our huge team of staff and freelance creatives and practitioners found themselves in uncharted territory.

“As the longer-term impact of the pandemic unfolded, the NT went through a traumatic period of crisis – including job losses for a large number of the fantastic staff who helped create and deliver the work we celebrate in this review and the severe financial impact on the creative freelance community that threatens the lifeblood of the theatre sector.

“We are extremely grateful to our donors, trustees, staff and freelancers who have shown an even greater level of commitment and support to us during this most difficult period in the NT’s history.

“The future will be different from what came before, but it seems clear to me that crisis has strengthened and clarified the National Theatre’s purpose: to celebrate the brilliant work that we create together: with theatre-makers and communities, for young people and audiences everywhere.”

Image: National Theatre