'Theatre closures are almost Orwellian': Malcolm McDowell on Covid-19 - and why playwrights are deserting the West End

Former theatre actor Malcolm McDowell, who’s set to appear in Truth Seekers on Prime Video, adds that the West End was ‘too heavily loaded’ with musicals before the pandemic.

By Sophia Moir Published: 26 October 2020 - 3.52pm
Getty Malcolm McDowell

Veteran screen icon Malcolm McDowell has described the closure of West End theatres due to the coronarius (Covid-19) pandemic as "almost Orwellian".

The 77-year-old British actor, who’s best known for starring in the controversial 1971 film A Clockwork Orange, has performed in the West End throughout his 50-year acting career.

Speaking to BT.com ahead of his role in Amazon Prime Video’s Truth Seekers, McDowell said the fact that theatres have been closed since March 16 to help slow the spread of coronavirus was "extraordinary" - comparing it to the dystopia that writer George Orwell described in the novel 1984.

Coronavirus West End theatre closures Getty
Theatres in London's West End were closed to reduce the spread of coronavirus

“Well at the moment, there’s nothing happening is there? We’re on shutdown. This is almost Orwellian. It’s just extraordinary what’s happened," said McDowell.

Theatre owner and producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh has warned that West End shows may be closed until summer 2021 without financial assistance from the government. 

Golden Globe-nominated actor McDowell believes that even before the pandemic struck, financial concerns meant London’s West End was already home to too few new plays. 

“The theatre and the West End is too heavily loaded, or it was, with musicals. Where are all the playwrights? Well, they’re writing for Amazon and Netflix. That’s where they are. So they can pay their mortgage," he said.

“It’s a lot more lucrative to be working in television or films than it is to be writing plays. So, there are very few new plays in London, or anywhere. There are not that many in New York either.”

Malcolm McDowell A Clockwork Orange Getty
Malcolm McDowell is best known for his role in A Clockwork Orange

McDowell, who recently portrayed media tycoon Rupert Murdoch in the Oscar-winning drama Bombshell, was born in Leeds but now lives with his third wife, Kelley, in a small town near Los Angeles.

He says he always loves working in London because unlike the United States, where the entertainment industry is spread across several cities, much of the UK's culture is concentrated in the capital city. 

“The great thing about London is that everything - television, film, radio, theatre - it’s all in one central area. In America, you’ve got New York and LA, and then Chicago, so you’ve got vast distances to go, so it’s wonderful to have it all in one place really [in London],” he explained.

“So I always love working in London, it’s one of the great cities in the world. It still is, probably even more so now. Anyway I’m going back to pre-Covid, I don’t know what it’s like now.”

Malcolm McDowell Truth Seekers Amazon Prime Video
Malcolm McDowell is set to star in Amazon Prime Video's horror comedy series, Truth Seekers

McDowell is next set to star in Amazon Prime Video horror-comedy series Truth Seekers, which has been written by and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz).

The eight-part series follows a team of part-time paranormal investigators, who team up to uncover and film ghost sightings across the UK - sharing their adventures on an online channel for all to see.

McDowell plays Richard, the father of Frost’s character, Gus. 

“Every moment with Nick was fun. The very first image [you see] where Gus accuses Richard of taking the digestive… You get the whole relationship just from that moment. You know instantly what’s up," he said.

“We’re not doing Shakespeare, we’re just having fun. They’re very nice people really. That’s why I liked the script so much. Every single scene with Nick was fun. I really can’t pick one because they were all great.”


Truth Seekers premieres Friday, October 30 on Amazon Prime Video.