Theatres are set to re-open from 17 May 2021 – subject to social distancing. The announcement came today, with details released in parliament before the Prime Minister formally announced dates for a route map out of lockdown in the now-familiar Downing Street Briefing room, framed by Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Chris Whitty. If all goes well, then we can expect social distancing to end a month later, with all venues able to operate to their full capacity from 21 June. The news will come as a huge relief to an industry which has been on its knees since March 2020. Details immediately appeared on every news network, including industry websites such as The Stage and Official London Theatre.
Despite the collective sigh of relief from our beleaguered Theatre community, today’s briefing raises as many questions as it answers, including whether major events such as the Edinburgh Fringe will go ahead in August. The hiatus in 2020 was a huge blow, not only for thousands of creatives, but also for a city whose prosperity is due in no small part to the arrival of hundreds of productions every summer, swelling the city’s population and coffers. Whether things like mask wearing could continue, or perhaps return in the more difficult autumn/winter period, are still questions which hang in the air.
Now that theatres have dates for reopening, the real work begins. Many shows will have lost cast members, if not to Covid itself then to other industries, and will have to recast. Shows such as Matilda at the Cambridge Theatre with children in the cast will have possibly the biggest headache, with some children now needing to be fully rehearsed in from scratch.
While there will be a huge appetite from UK audiences to return to live entertainment, some (particularly older) audience members will need time for their confidence to return and then there is the matter of international tourism, so vital to the West End. But for now, lets just enjoy a much needed bit of good news and hope that, this time, the end of lockdown is the real beginning of the end.