The effect of the war on the theatre business

As you would expect, the war had a huge impact on the theatre business. Actors and musicians were called up to active duty and some did not make it back. As well as this there was the massive financial impact with the introduction of entertainment tax making it more expensive for those at home to attend the various shows.

Arthur Catterall, the English violinist and R J Forbes, the pianist from Stalybridge were both called up to active duty in July 1917. While neither of them actually left England, Frederick Blamey, the English tenor, served in the air force until the end of the war. Some performers did not return, in June 1917 the actor Charles Bibby was reported missing and in the same month Edwin Batty, a contributor to the Manchester Programme was killed in action. Even those who were lucky enough to return did not always have a career to return to as shown by the Goosen’s family. Eugene Goosens was a conductor who worked in Beccham’s operas, his son Eugene Junior followed in his footsteps. He had 2 other sons, Adolph was a pianist but died from wounds at war in August 1916. His other son Leon was an oboeist but did have to serve and therefore did not share a stage with his father and brother.


As well as the impact of the musicians and actors being called up to active duty, there were many financial burdens for the theatre business as a result of war. The front cover of The Manchester Programme was usually very colourful, printed on good quality card with gold leaf detail added (see featured image). Many times throughout the war the front cover was printed on cheap coloured paper with no added colour or detail (see picture above). While i can not say for certain why this was, a few things have been suggested to me such as the printers strike and limited supplies in wartime. The government introduced an entertainment tax in 1916 which meant that theatres had to make the decision of whether to take this extra cost or pass it onto the customers via tickets prices. The Halle worked at a loss of £558 in that season with the blame being placed on the dark times, as streets were dark, there were petrol shortages and it was a particularly bad winter. Most theatres could not afford to take the extra cost and chose the increase their ticket prices. In Feb 1917, the Palace increased their prices on Saturday nights and during the holidays, they also increased the number of performances to twice nightly to increase revenue. In July 1917 the entertainment tax was rising again which caused protests from the entertainment properties and managers association. They claimed that since the introduction of the tax over 700 places of amusement had closed and that increasing the tax would only lead to more closures and more people out of work and therefore less income tax being paid. They argued that this was counterproductive and depriving the public of entertainment at a time when they needed it the most. The only entertainment venues exempt from the tax were the army theatres set up to entertain the soldiers. With so much financial pressure on regular theatres these came under criticism from the Theatres Alliance. The alliance argued against them being exempt from tax and also from soldiers being allowed to bring a lady friend to these shows. They claimed that they were taking custom from the other theatres as the lady friend would maybe have attended a regular theatre had she not been invited to the army theatre.

Considering the financial burden and decreasing number of musicians and audience members due to the war it is astounding that the theatres remained opened for business and still attracted large audiences during the war period

By Katrina Ingram

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