BILLY Pearce once told me that when children say what they love most about the Alhambra panto, it isn’t the special effects and 3D wizardry. It’s his “Don’t touch the box” routine.

Anyone who has seen the Yorkshire funnyman in action (21 Alhambra pantos and counting) will be familiar with the old-school slapstick stunt which, in Billy’s hands, has audiences in stitches. It’s a physical comedy tradition that generations treasure as an early memory of live theatre.

I have been writing about theatre and the arts for many years and am lucky enough to go to the theatre regularly. There is nothing quite like the energy of a live performance, and in today’s digital world it’s heartening to see audiences of all ages engaged in an artform that’s been around since the Ancient Greeks.

My last theatre trip was in March but seems a lifetime ago. Stages are now ‘dark’, as they say in theatrical circles. Auditoriums are silent. There is no front-of-house buzz, shuffling into seats, rustling of sweet packets, ripple of anticipation as the lights dim, orchestras strike up and curtains rise. For some venues, the curtain may never rise again. For theatres and other live venues, the Covid-19 crisis has been catastrophic. As the country went into lockdown, venues closed and productions were called off, leaving many people in the industry without employment, from actors to box office staff. An arts publicist I know lost 90 per cent of his income overnight.

The whole industry has been hit hard, from huge international shows like The Lion King - due this month at the Alhambra, the only Yorkshire dates on the UK tour, now put back to 2022 - to local theatre groups which rely on community support to keep going.

Just a couple of days into the first week of lockdown, I wrote about at least half-a-dozen local venues closing to the public and cancelling shows, at huge financial cost. “Some may be closed for months. Others may never re-open,” says Emma Walters, director of ticketing organisation PatronBase. “If you want to go back to your favourite theatre or arts centre when this is all over, support them now - or they may not be there.”

Thanks to the fighting spirit and creative solutions of our theatres, we can continue to support them while this crisis continues. Many shows are now on a digital stage, for the price of a ticket or donation, and there are brilliant, innovative projects like Your Place Comedy, a group of small, independent venues across the North which have joined forces to reunite venues, performers and audiences. On Sunday from 8pm comics Mark Watson and Lucy Beaumont will deliver live-streamed shows from their homes, free on YouTube and Facebook, with donations distributed among venues including Otley Courthouse, Carriageworks in Leeds and Pocklington Arts Centre (

The Great Yorkshire Buffet is a new radio comedy from Bradford-based Fresh Aire Productions, a collaborative of writers, actors and directors. The ‘dinner theatre’ show follows Fresh Aire’s Queens of Dawson City radio sitcom (

On May 1 Leeds theatre company Slung Low streams the premiere of new short film The Good Book, set in a future civil war ( and Northern Ballet is showing favourites such as Dracula and 1984 online or on TV in its ‘Pay As You Feel’ digital season.

These are just some of the ways we can support performing arts, from our living-room auditoriums. The show must go on - and our support is vital.