Delay in ending lockdown a ‘catastrophe’ for theatre industry, impresarios say

The Government has been accused of actions ‘reminiscent of a West End farce’.
The Government has been accused of actions ‘reminiscent of a West End farce’. The Government has been accused of actions ‘reminiscent of a West End farce’.

The Government’s delay in ending England’s coronavirus restrictions is a “catastrophe” for the theatre and live entertainment sector, leading impresarios have said.

Boris Johnson confirmed that he was delaying ending England’s lockdown, with July 19 now the date earmarked for lifting the remaining restrictions.

More than 30 guests will now be able to attend weddings, wedding receptions and other commemorative events such as wakes, but the capacity of venues will be limited by the requirements around social distancing.

Coronavirus – Mon Jun 14, 2021
Coronavirus – Mon Jun 14, 2021 Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance during a media briefing in Downing Street (Jonathan Buckmaster/Daily Express/PA)

The Government also aims to host between 10 and 15 further live event pilots in the four weeks leading up to July 19, including cultural events and Euro 2020 games at Wembley Stadium.

In his press briefing on Monday, Mr Johnson responded to statements from Andrew Lloyd Webber, who previously warned he would consider legal action if theatres were not allowed to reopen at full capacity.

The Prime Minister said he has “colossal” admiration for the composer, whose production of Cinderella is set to open for previews later this month, ahead of a world premiere in July.

Mr Johnson told the Downing Street briefing: “I’ve got colossal admiration for Andrew Lloyd Webber. The entire theatre sector is one of the great glories of this country.

Andrew Lloyd Webber comments
Andrew Lloyd Webber comments Andrew Lloyd Webber threatened to take legal action over lockdown measures (Nigel French/PA)

“It’s broken everybody’s heart to see what we’ve had to go through and I bitterly regret the fact that we must be cautious again now.

“And, actually, on Cinderella and Lord Lloyd-Webber’s latest production, I think we’re in talks with him to try to make it work and we’ll do whatever we can to be helpful.”

He said there are some pilot events that he hopes will go ahead even in the next four weeks.

In his response, Lord Lloyd-Webber said he is “pleased and surprised” by the Prime Minister’s comments on Cinderella, but needs to know more about the scheme.

In a statement, he said: “My goal is, and will always be, to fight for the full and safe reopening of theatre and live music venues up and down the country.

“I was pleased and surprised to hear the Prime Minister mention Cinderella as part of his announcement today, but I can’t comment further on the proposed pilot until I know more about the scheme.”

Leading figures from the stricken live entertainment industry condemned the move to delay the end of lockdown and warned the beleaguered sector could not take much more strain.

In a statement, Sir Howard Panter and Dame Rosemary Squire of Trafalgar Entertainment said: “This delay is yet another bungle from a government that wouldn’t be given a single star in a review of its performance. The confusion and muddled messages are reminiscent of a West End farce.”

They argue the Government’s own data shows a trip to the theatre is less dangerous than going to the pub, restaurant or supermarket and stressed the sector’s importance to public life.

Investitures at Windsor Castle
Investitures at Windsor Castle Sir Howard Panter and Dame Rosemary Squire of  Trafalgar Entertainment urged the Government ‘to act before it’s too late’ (John Stillwell/PA)

Sir Howard and Dame Rosemary, who have two West End productions due to start next month, added: “With the data supporting a return to live events at full capacity – and with risks now diminishing – we urge the Government to act before it’s too late.

“During the pandemic this Government has been fond of three-word slogans. Hands, Face, Space. Build back better. Today we ask them to consider a few more. Open our theatres. Enough is enough. Let audiences in.”

Sir Howard, whose shows Anything Goes and Jersey Boys face costly delays, said that while uncertainty remained over whether there would be a third wave of Covid-19, he was clear about the “significant damage to the theatre industry and all related industries”.

Equity, the actors’ union, said while public health must be the top priority, the Government “can’t just expect a limitless reserve of resilience from our industry”.

General secretary Paul W Fleming called for grants to make up for reduced capacity as well as a Government-backed insurance scheme.

He said: “The Government cannot present their unspent, poorly constructed Culture Recovery Fund and a Self-Employment Income Support Scheme – which excludes 40% of Equity’s members –​ entirely as an adequate response.

“They’ve had over a year to protect the industry which shut first and will open last. Not stepping up risks permanent damage to our economy, global standing and, most importantly, the art and entertainment audiences can access.”​

Theatres Trust director Jon Morgan said the four-week delay to the end of lockdown restrictions would leave venues unable to open with reduced capacity in a challenging position.

He said: “Today’s news of a four-week delay to step four of the reopening road map is wholly understandable given the rise in infection numbers and the Delta variant.

“However, it will be difficult for theatres who were depending on being able to reopen at full capacity and will already have committed considerable resources in preparation without the safety net of a theatre sector insurance scheme.

“Although many theatres have temporarily reopened with reduced audiences, continuing to operate at significantly reduced capacity is economically unsustainable.

“Other venues that were planning to reopen when full audiences were permitted may be forced to cancel shows.

“It is vital that the additional £408 million allocated to the Culture Recovery Fund in the Budget is distributed quickly and targeted to those organisations most impacted by this setback.”