Hope Mill said the negative comments were upsetting after what has been an ‘emotional rollercoaster’

It’s now been over six tortuous months since performing arts venues were forced to close their doors. Opening is still unfeasible for many and, for those that are braving a 2020 comeback, the necessity for socially distanced audiences (cutting capacity by up to 70%) will have a devastating impact on profit margins.

The belated distribution of the £1.57 billion culture rescue fund has provided relief to some (albeit grief to others). Another £75 million was announced at the weekend, including over £2.85 million for Manchester’s Royal Exchange; too late to prevent a recent round of redundancies but vital support in the coming months. Yet with full reopening still a distant prospect, the struggle for survival is far from over.

Palace Theatre
COVID regulations, including social distancing, mean many theatres have yet to reopen

For Hope Mill, one of a handful of Manchester theatres to reopen this month, last weekend presented yet another setback: a barrage of abuse in response to its COVID measures.   

The Ancoats treasure, whose musical Rent recently sold out, posted a video of what audiences can expect on visiting; including sanitising hands and a temperate check on entry, mobile ticket scanning and staff use of masks and gloves - as well as safety screens separating audiences and sanitising the theatre space between shows (with a fogger that admittedly does look like something out of Ghostbusters).

And, while a majority praised its efforts, some were quick to criticise.

‘Looks like my worst nightmare I'm afraid. Stop the nonsense and I'll be there every night x,’ said one Tweeter while another expressed similar sentiments: ‘I’m a huge supporter of the arts but this isn’t what theatre is about. Have the guts to say no to this indoctrination and get rid of those awful plastic screens.’ 

Less diplomatic feedback ranged from ‘horrendous!’ to ‘pathetic,’ ‘like a horror movie’ to ‘dystopian nightmare.’ One woman said ‘You absolutely have to be kidding. Less humiliating to get inside Wormwood Scrubs’ and another added ‘Hope Mill? I’d say there was no Hope!’

Some, including conspiracy theorists, even urged the theatre to ignore COVID advice altogether. And others, while expressing their understanding at the measures, said they would forgo live performance until normality returned.

2020 10 26 Hope Mill Comment

Since its founding in November 2015 by couple Joseph Houston and William Whelton, Hope Mill has become one of most successful fringe venues in England; beloved by the artistic community and an ever-growing fan base. Physical tickets for its autumn musical Rent have sold out (at the necessary 50% capacity) and the CIO - which also hosts weddings, community events and an in-house restaurant - is now adding the performance to its successful range of online shows.

Hope Mill was also successful in its culture recovery fund bid, receiving a £150,00 grant. 

Nevertheless, it’s been touch and go for the theatre, which has expressed its upset over the negative comments following what has been ‘an emotional rollercoaster.’

With some venues criticised for not implementing enough COVID precautions, others for not publicising how they’re making visits safe, the phrase ‘can’t do right for doing wrong’ has never been more apt. Clearly the Hope Mill team are doing their best for staff and visitors in trying times, and for that we can only applaud.     

Want to show some solidarity? Tickets for Rent - Online are now available, as is show merchandise, or you can visit the Support Us page for further inspiration. 

Read more: Manchester performing arts - what’s reopening when?