The sense of doom and gloom caused by the covid-19 pandemic had well and truly taken hold of London by the middle of last week. There was a dark humour about the place reflected by the public address system at Victoria Tube station playing “Ghost Town” by The Specials to the significantly reduced number of commuters who were scuttling away to catch the next train home.
Throughout Tuesday and Wednesday last week, there had been a steady cascade of announcements from community arts groups, orchestras, choirs and sports clubs about the postponement or cancellation of long-planned events.
It seemed that community groups had taken on board the necessity for avoiding having people gathered together to prevent the spread of coronavirus better than Croydon Council, or the management of the Fairfield Halls.
For while much of the West End was turning out the lights and cancelling productions for the foreseeable, south London’s second-biggest arts centre dithered and delayed, and was still taking bookings for some of its shows as late as last Wednesday night, a day after the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had called on theatres and concert venues to close.
Given the problems that the venue has encountered in the six months since its (belated) re-opening after a vastly over-budget refurbishment, this pandemic-forced closure of the Fairfield Halls could prove to be a hammer blow to the venue managers, BHLive, as they hinted in a statement on the venue’s website.
“This has been a difficult decision in our first year of reopening,” they said, “however our responsibility is to the safety of visitors, our team and artists. We thank you for your support and well wishes.”
For now, the closure is until further notice. “Bringing arts to the heart of Croydon will continue to be our focus – the local and national talent that has walked through our doors so far as been nothing short of amazing! We can’t wait to reopen (again) and welcome you back to raise the curtains in our venue once more.”
Among the casualties of the Fairfield closure is Run It Back, the first production at their new home by Talawa, the resident black theatre company, which was supposed to open last week.
They said that they were postponing “scheduled performances of Run It Back and associated activities for the foreseeable future.
“It wasn’t an easy decision. We feel it’s the right decision.”
The Talawa company announced their decision to cancel their shows more than 24 hours before the Fairfield closure was announced.
“We are in unprecedented times,” they said. “Like our colleagues and artists, in the UK and around the world, we believe that precautionary measures must outweigh the desire to present our opening production of the year.
“We know everyone involved has put in a huge amount of work and we hope that some of the events can still be held later in the year. We regard the wellbeing of our audiences, staff, cast and creative family as our main priority.”
Other Fairfield events to get cancelled include the Carmina Burana concert, due to be staged in the main concert hall this Saturday with the Croydon Philharmonic leading a 250-voice choir and a 60-piece orchestra, plus the choir of St Mary’s Primary School, Oxted.
“In the overall scheme of things, a cancelled concert is the least of our worries,” said one of the choristers. “We are desperately disappointed at missing out on this big occasion.”
The Croydon Philharmonic Choir has meanwhile suspended all its activities until Easter (“Though there must be some doubt that we’ll be able to resume then,” they say), the Croydon Bach Choir has had to re-schedule its big, 70th-anniversary celebration concert to an unspecified date in the autumn, and the Croydon Male Voice Choir has decided it won’t be performing again until September.
Elsewhere, the Theatre Workshop Coulsdon, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, has cancelled its Agatha Christie whodunnit, which was due to start a 10-day run this weekend, And Then There Were None.
“With a play title like that, we would have been asking for trouble if we’d even considered going ahead under the circumstances,” one member of the cast said.
Theatre Workshop Coulsdon say that they hope to reschedule for later in the year, possibly replacing their open-air summer show at Coulsdon Manor. But they have already decided to axe their “tour” to Falmouth to perform Radio Days.
“Our 50th year isn’t quite the big old celebration we’d hoped for,” said the source.
The organisers of the Crystal Palace Festival, which was due to stage a week-long set of music gigs, comedy and poetry in June, made an early call to postpone for a couple of months.
“We must sadly postpone the 2020 Crystal Palace Festival due to covid-19 concerns,” they said. “The Festival will now take place on August 15 to 23.”
The volunteers who run the David Lean Cinema’s art-house programme also took the decision to cancel all their screenings last Tuesday, well ahead of the council announcing on Friday the closure of its Clocktower arts and museum venue.
“We are very sorry to take this step but we have concluded that the risk to the health of both patrons and staff is significant and that we should not expose them to this risk – particularly since many of our patrons and staff are over 70 and are more susceptible,” said Philip Howard, the chair of the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign.
“We also need to take account of the official advice to avoid non-essential contact.”
Other cultural groups and venues – Croydon Airport’s monthly open house, the Shirley Windmill, the Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society – have all put their activities on hold, while residents’ associations have also been cancelling their planned meetings.
Even Inside Croydon has suspended the publication of its Events page, for the duration.
Downhearted, but undaunted, some of the musicians from the Male Voice Choir have nevertheless been following health specialists’ advice by avoiding too-close physical contact but still ensuring that they get out and take some exercise.
Last Monday, a dozen of them gathered, not too closely, at the Hare and Hounds in Godstone for a bracing ramble – plus a bit of singing in the open air, when under railway bridges where the acoustics are better.
“It felt like a last hurrah before the First World War,” said one, who though in his 80s is not quite old enough to remember 1914.
As the group completed their walk, “Back at the Hare and Hounds, news was breaking about people being advised not to go to pubs. The friendly staff provided an excellent meal, although the atmosphere was a little sombre as it was probably going to be the last walking supper for a while.”
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