Extravagantly dressed pantomime dames brought a dash of colour to central London on Wednesday to highlight the plight of the coronavirus-ravaged arts sector.

Dozens of dames -- male actors in grand frocks and gaudy make-up who are a staple of Britain's historic holiday-time stage shows -- were among protesters who marched on parliament.

They were calling for further funding from the government to save jobs after the 2020 panto season over Christmas and the New Year was cancelled due to the virus.

Many theatres have had to remain closed because of difficulties enforcing social distancing rules, plunging many into debt and forcing staff to be laid off.

"Without a pantomime season, theatres are essentially losing in some cases almost 40 percent of the revenue they need to spread out to do the great work that they do every year," said Paul Fleming, general secretary-elect of the acting union Equity.

A pantomime dame poses outside Downing Street / © AFP

"So you risk -- without a pantomime season, without a workforce adequately supported -- you lose artists, you lose theatres, you lose producers," he told AFP.

"You see the collapse of this industry that delivers hundreds of billions of pounds to the British economy every year, and something vital for every community."

Also on Wednesday, philanthropist Vivien Duffield announced her foundation will donate £2.5 million ($3.2 million, 2.75 million euros) to various cultural institutions to stem their losses.

"This will be to get them out running again, to help them in every way they want," Duffield said at a news conference at the Royal Academy of Arts, also in central London.

The endowment is reserved for establishments that already work with the foundation and will be divided among 21 museums, 19 galleries, eight theatres and 18 other cultural venues.

Major London institutions including Tate Britain, the Tate Modern, the British Museum and the V&A Museum will benefit, along with regional venues such as the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon and the Museum of Liverpool.

Duffield called for the endowment to be used "imaginatively", creating "digital offerings" or helping to adapt to cater for smaller groups.

Cultural institutions have been particularly hard hit by the lockdown imposed to limit the coronavirus pandemic in Britain.

The country has been Europe's worst-hit, and more than 42,000 people have died. Concern is now mounting about a surge in cases.

The government promised the sector an unprecedented £1.57 billion in aid in July, which was welcomed as vital but possibly not sufficient.

Tom Morris, artistic director of the Old Vic in Bristol, which will benefit from the endowment, called it an "opportunity".

"Today's gesture gives us an opportunity, while we are celebrating the government's investment in culture, to also argue very clearly about where the next available funds should be spent," he told reporters.