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Theatre capacity restrictions to remain until July as reopening date is pushed back

les mis west end

Social distancing will remain in place in English theatres until July, it has been confirmed.

The government has announced that its originally planned date of easing restrictions on 21 June will no longer go ahead.

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In a press conference tonight (14 June), Prime Minister Boris Johnson extended restrictions until 19 July.

He added that there would be some changes for weddings and wakes while pilot events, including theatrical performances, would continue.

Johnson went on to say that the government would monitor the situation “every day” and reserved the possibility of a full opening “even sooner” than the 19 July date.

He said: “I’m confident we will not need more than four weeks,” saying it was “unmistakeably clear that vaccines were working”.

“Now is the time to ease off the accelerator because by being cautious now we have the chance of saving thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people. We’ll be in a far stronger position to keep hospitalisations down and complete our cautious and irreversible roadmap to freedom.”

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Responding to the news, Theatres Trust Director Jon Morgan said: “Today’s news of a four-week delay to Step 4 of the reopening roadmap is wholly understandable given the rise in the 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 £408m allocated to the Culture Recovery Fund in the Budget is distributed quickly and targeted to those organisations most impacted by this setback.”

SOLT and UK Theatre Chief Executive Julian Bird said in a statement: “The proposed four-week delay to full reopening of live entertainment venues will have serious implications for many theatres and performing companies around the country.

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“This delay not only impacts productions and theatres preparing to open in the next few weeks, but also shows currently running socially distanced which had planned to increase their capacity – and producers making the difficult decision whether to start rehearsals for shows due to open in late July or August, with thousands of jobs hanging in the balance.

“Particularly at risk are large-scale commercial productions, which have received little or no Cultural Recovery Fund support and cannot survive under social distancing.

“We urge Government to consider greater support for affected theatre organisations, by offering a tailored insurance scheme, allocating the remainder of the Cultural Recovery Fund, and extending full furlough and the Business Rates holiday.

“Once theatres are given the go-ahead to fully return, we will continue to implement industry-wide ‘See It Safely’ measures including enhanced cleaning, one-way systems, contactless ticketing and security, and the wearing of masks if required.

“The safety of theatre audiences and staff is our top priority, and we want everyone to be confident to return to full houses on the basis of the latest scientific data. We need Government to confirm as soon as possible that restrictions will be lifted on 19 July – a clear, irreversible reopening date will boost audience confidence at a time when it is vital theatre fans support the industry they love.”

Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Meanwhile Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber – who last week vowed to open his new musical Cinderella “come hell or high water” – has pleaded for an increase on theatre capacity limits from 50 to 75 per cent.

He told the Daily Mail newspaper: “A 50 per cent house is not a viable solution for any length of time.”

The news of the delay is likely to impact a number of shows that had been due to open at full capacity in the coming weeks including Heathers, Pretty Woman, Joseph and the aforementioned Cinderella.

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