A View from St Mary in the Castle

By Marcus Weeks

Sadly, not a plug for this year’s panto at St Mary’s, but a description of that magnificent venue in the time of Covid-19 and indeed the Arts generally. 

Like theatres and concert halls up and down the country, St Mary in the Castle closed its doors to the public in March, and has lain dormant since then. Plans for re-opening have had to be post-poned several times, and it is
now unrealistic to hope for performances and events to recommence until the Spring.

PICTURE: Dale Weeks Photography

It has been frustrating to have to abandon an exciting programme of events ranging from community fitness classes through to music concerts, especially as St Mary in the Castle was becoming established as a major centre for the arts, and host to events of national and even international significance Despite the uncertainty there are bookings for major events throughout 2021. 

Of course, we are not alone in feeling the effects of the pandemic, as venues and audiences alike are deprived of the opportunity to enjoy live entertainment, and performers, artists and technicians have found themselves without work. Many venues find themselves in the same position as us or perhaps even worse, being forced to close permanently. We send our solidarity to them. The Arts bring us joy, solace, hope and community, all of which are needed now more than ever. 

On top of this cultural loss, the whole sector has also suffered an almost unfathomable financial hit too and we are no exception — at the best of times it is no easy task to make ends meet, and without the regular income from events it has become especially hard. A building of such historical and cultural importance requires constant maintenance, which is often expensive.

Now, here is the dilemma: it would be great to get back to putting on events at St Mary’s, especially as remaining closed is a drain on finite resources. We have an excellent programme including local and internationally renowned music artists, dance, theatre, drinks festivals, and everything in between. However, reopening while necessary restrictions are in force to protect the public, performers and staff would involve expensive cleaning and alterations to the building, and to comply with social distancing would severely restrict the size of audiences — likely to the extent that many performances would be financially unviable.

For the time being then, the beauty sleeps, dreaming of the kiss that will wake her to live happily ever after, rescued by a Prince Charming with a remedy for the virus, or perhaps just a cash injection.

Fortunately, she can slumber comfortably for a while yet, but not too long, we hope.

Marcus Weeks is a Trustee and past Chair of the St Mary in the Castle Charitable Trust.

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