West End actors angry over vote for more Sunday shows

Performers could be expected to do up to five performances over a weekend if new proposal is voted through

Lesley-Anne Morley
Sunday 17 March 2013 01:00 GMT
Day of rest: The Criterion in Piccadilly is currently closed on Sundays
Day of rest: The Criterion in Piccadilly is currently closed on Sundays

The show, it seems, must go on, and on, even on Sundays. And it appears many performers are less than delighted by the prospect. Voting on a controversial proposal that could result in stage curtains rising in more of London's West End theatres on Sundays has been extended this week after leading actors voiced anger over its impact on their family lives.

Equity, the actors' union, said balloting of its members appearing in London shows would continue this week. Voting was meant to end last Friday but the union said the process was taking longer than expected. The issue of extra Sunday performances in London's West End theatres has incensed performers and is clouding the outcome of the ballot, which also concerns pay and sick benefit increases.

Many actors are objecting to a proposed clause in contracts which would allow the Society of London Theatre (Solt) to lay on two Sunday performances. While London theatres are allowed currently to open twice on Sunday, they have to get agreement from the cast. Few do so: only nine shows sell tickets for Sunday performances. Under the new deal, Sunday performance could be imposed by the theatre owners and producers, as long as they give performers eight weeks' notice.

Jennifer Bryden, starring in The 39 Steps at the Criterion Theatre, said that more pay and sick benefits were welcome but the issue of Sunday working was more important. "While I don't wish to undermine the hard work our union puts in fighting in our corner, it does seem to me that the compromises outweigh the benefits," she said. "Actors already work antisocial hours in regards to leading a normal family life, and to eat into this time any more is too much of a sacrifice."

The Olivier-award-winning actor Roger Allam, set to play Prospero in The Tempest at the Globe Theatre on London's Bankside, was more forthright. "I'm dead against it," he said. "I was against it when we moved to Sunday performance as more or less normal. Having two shows on a Saturday and a Sunday is just a nightmare if you've got kids. It's awful. It's just absolutely dreadful. I wouldn't sign a contract for five shows over the weekend. I just wouldn't do it."

Matilda star Bertie Carvel took to Twitter last week and encouraged fellow actors to get informed and have their say before the polling was complete. "Seeking world-class ensembles for West End show. Cover responsibilities negotiable. Parents need not apply," he tweeted.

In the face of protests, Equity has told members it will review the Sunday issue with theatre managers once the meetings are finished, and its council will inform members of further action. The official result of the vote will not be available until next week.

A spokesman for Equity said: "There has been a very large amount of consultation regarding the new proposal and specific aspects of it, including the Sunday clause. We do expect the majority of West End members to vote in favour of the agreement."

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