EU work permit regulations could scupper productions like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Flying boy

A scene from the National Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the Europe tour of which could be shelved as post-Brexit arrangements make it financially unviable. Photograph: Joan Marcus/AP

The National Theatre is shelving plans to tour productions to mainland Europe due to uncertainty over work permits because of Brexit.


Before travelling to work in a number of EU countries, many working in the arts will now need to apply for short-term work permits.

A spokesperson for the theatre said it had planned to take its production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time to venues in Europe, but the tour had been postponed as a result of Covid.

“We hope to resume European touring. However, we’re currently unable to make firm plans because of Brexit legislation; the potential additional costs for visas and current uncertainty around social security contributions mean regrettably it is currently not financially viable,” the spokesperson said.

“We hope that in future we’ll return to tour in Europe. However, that will not be possible until we have further clarity on these points.”

The news follows the publication of an open letter signed by stars including Sir Ian McKellen, Julie Walters and Patrick Stewart calling for the government to urgently address the new visa rules.

In the letter from the performing arts union Equity, some of the biggest names in British theatre implored Boris Johnson to go back to the negotiating table to ensure visa-free work in the EU. The letter states that creative practitioners are desperate to work in Europe once pandemic restrictions lift, but “the current Brexit deal is a towering hurdle to that”.

“Before, we were able to travel to Europe visa-free. Now we have to pay hundreds of pounds, fill in form after form, and spend weeks waiting for approval – just so we can do our jobs,” it says.

The news regarding the National Theatre emerged when Olivier award-winning lighting designer Paule Constable told MPs that she had been told that the show War Horse would no longer tour in Europe. The National Theatre later clarified that it was actually The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, not War Horse, that had been affected.

The committee is currently looking into the impacts of the absence of a UK-EU visa arrangement for creative professionals.

Constable, who has lit War Horse as well as other hit shows including Follies and the new West End production of Les Misérables, also told the committee that a lack of clarity over the rules was leading to British professionals facing “absolute chaos”.

Responding to the comments by the National Theatre on Wednesday, a government spokesperson said: “Touring in Europe is currently not possible due to Covid-19 and EU member states have not set out plans for when it will be. We are working urgently with the UK’s creative industries to help ensure they can work confidently in Europe once touring can safely resume.”

On Tuesday, the government said that although the EU rejected its proposals for creative professionals to work flexibly, it hoped member states “will act on these calls by changing the rules they apply to UK creatives”.