An award-winning theatre could scrap its annual pantomime this year to avoid further losses after the lockdown wiped out nearly half its income.

Runcorn’s Brindley Theatre has already cancelled more than 180 shows since March, costing it £460,000 in lost income, and is unsure of when it will be able to reopen.

At a Halton Council meeting on Tuesday evening, councillors were told the theatre was in “a very precarious position”, with losses already amounting to 40% of last year’s income.

Council officer Chris Patino told the meeting: “It was going to be our best year ever, and now it’s going to be our worst year ever.”

He added that the council, which runs the theatre, was unsure of what would happen next and was considering cancelling the Brindley’s pantomime in case social distancing rules meant it was not financially viable.

Mr Patino said: “If we take the pantomime on and this Covid reappears or we are unable to use the full size of the Brindley, we could lose a lot of money.”

Despite being closed to the public, the Brindley has been staffed throughout the pandemic, with staff working to renegotiate contracts to allow the theatre to run a full programme once it does reopen.

Staff have also been carrying out essential maintenance and processing £57,000 of refunds for cancelled shows.

The government has said theatres can reopen from the beginning of August for socially distanced shows, but venues have warned that that performances would not be economically viable with social distancing in place.

In a statement, the Theatres Trust said: “This is a step in the right direction, but for most theatres it will not be economically viable to reopen with 30-40% audience required under social distancing.

“We now need to progress as quickly as possible to an announcement on the all-important stage 5, allowing theatres to reopen fully with the appropriate safety measures.  “Without this most theatres cannot reopen viably and we need the go-ahead for Christmas shows, on which the survival of many theatres depends, in the next few weeks at the very latest.”

The Brindley Theatre appears to have no plans to reopen from August 1.