The UK government has announced that theatres can reopen for live indoor performances from 1 August 2020, subject to the success of pilot schemes and provided adequate safety measures are put in place.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said ” We will restart indoor performances to a live audience, subject to the success of pilots, and we will also pilot larger gatherings in venues like sports stadia with a view to a wider reopening in the autumn”.
He added: “All of these measures, for August 1, should be done in a Covid-secure way.”
Johnson also said it may be “conceivably possible” to move away from social distancing measures such as the one-metre rule by November at the earliest, which will be “entirely conditional on our ability to keep the virus under control”.
Oliver Dowden, UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said “The UK’s performing arts sector is renowned across the world and I am pleased that we are making real progress in getting its doors reopened to the public with social distancing.
“From August indoor theatres, music venues and performance spaces will safely welcome audiences back across the country.
“This is a welcome step in the path to a return to normal and, coupled with our £1.57 billion rescue package, will help secure the future of this important sector.”
He also tweeted:
Dowden’s government department is currently working with the theatre industry including London Symphony Orchestra and theatre owner Andrew Lloyd Webber on piloting safety protocols which will inform the final guidance for venues.
The announcement marks the move to Stage 4 of the government’s roadmap for the reopening of theatres, which will allow performances indoors and outdoors, but with a limited distanced audience indoors.
Further measures required of theatres will include:
Reduced venue capacity and limited ticket sales to ensure social distancing can be maintained
Online sale of tickets and venues encouraged to use e-tickets to reduce contact and help with track and trace
Increased deep cleaning of auditoriums
Performances should be scheduled to allow sufficient time to undertake deep cleaning
Social distancing of performers, conductors and musicians
The guidance is for organisations in England, with organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to adhere to the rules set out by the devolved governments.
Dowden also confirmed a timetable for the return of leisure, sporting and business activities including: from 1 August opening bowling alleys, skating rinks and casinos; from 1 October fans returning to sporting competition venues and stadiums with social distancing and the resumption of business events and conferences with social distancing. The relaxation of the current rules pertaining to social and business events is subsequent to new guidelines and requiring that covid-19 infection rates remain low.
Whilst this is welcome news for many in the theatre and entertainment industry, the reality of large scale musical productions returning to London’s West End by August is highly unlikely due to the time taken to remount and rehearse productions, time for theatre owners to implement new guidelines, and the financial implications of playing to at best half-empty theatres.