Shining a Light on our Theatres in Lockdown

Shining a Light on our Theatres in Lockdown

Dark Monday – March 16 – was the day the pandemic shut down our arts venues. Troy David Johnston spent the next few months documenting them in their poignant yet beautiful stillness…

In March, Troy David Johnston was working backstage on West End smash Wicked. Watching the crisis unfold around the world, and seeing theatres on Broadway being closed, he knew it was only a matter of time before they too would shut. He was devastated by the news, but like many, he took to cycling around the empty streets for his daily exercise – the keen photographer brought his camera, of course. And the theatres in lockdown at that moment really captured his attention.

“I was struck by the dormancy of the buildings. Living in London, amongst the hustle of big city life, you just assume that people will be around you all the time. Yet here were these buildings sitting quietly, without the people buzzing around them,” says Troy. “There was also a sense of tranquillity. For just a moment, the environment was at peace.”

He photographed 84 buildings, north, from the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, east to the Theatre Royal Stratford East, west to the Lyric Hammersmith, and south to The Turbine Theatre, Theatre 503, Battersea Arts Centre, Richmond Theatre, and New Wimbledon Theatre. The black and white images with signs and doors illuminated in colour seem to say it all – the theatres may be in darkness for now but their lights are still shining bright. The resulting images are being published in a book, along with tales from those in the industry about this time, including stars such as Dame Judi Dench, as well as those behind the scenes.

He also captures the different architectural styles of the theatres. “I love photographing structure and lines within the architecture of a building. The grandness of Battersea Arts Centre, New Wimbledon and Richmond are just astonishing to the eye. Throughout this project I have been particularly struck by the work of architect, Frank Matcham. His theatre designs have truly become a visual signature of West End theatres, and which of course, extends all the way to Richmond Theatre.”

The book, Going Dark, is set to be released in the spring. His favourite image? “One of the standouts would have to be the Stage Door of the Palace Theatre. It’s all locked up tight, and no one can get in. But above the door, etched into the stone lintel are the words, ‘The world’s greatest artistes have passed and will pass through these doors.’ I think this completely encapsulates this moment in time for our community. Theatre has such a rich history in London, and it will continue again, to be sure.”

Troy’s hope is to get back to work at Wicked as soon as possible. But he has loved the experience of creating the book. “I didn’t realise how much my work would resonate with people, from within the industry and audience members alike. It’s been very humbling.”


It’s also captured such an important yet terrible part of history, and its impact on an industry that brings such joy to many. The stories alongside the images are equally poignant. “I have been keen to represent the voice of the entire community with the contributors in the book. There are so many people who work in the shadows, behind the scenes, who help create the experience of theatre for the audience. I am so very honoured to be able to tell their stories as part of my series.

“One of my colleagues at Wicked, Stu Holden – Master Carpenter, wrote the most beautiful, heartfelt piece, that for me completely sums up what everyone feels about our industry closing. It has been the only time I have really cried out loud when working on the book, as I was so struck by its honesty. Stu is such a beloved company member, and I can’t wait to share his words with the world.

“To paraphrase him slightly, ‘when you take away our theatres, you take away a part of us all.’”

Theatres in Lockdown