UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced yesterday that theatres can return to full capacity from 19th July 2021. The date, coined ‘Freedom Day’ comes almost a month later than theatres had originally anticipated returning to unrestricted re-opening.
Lifting of restrictions
The complete lifting of restrictions is hugely positive for theatre producers, who will be hoping that they can begin to repair the financial damage inflicted on an industry which has been harder hit than most by the Coronavirus pandemic. Theatres across the UK fell dark on 16th March 2020 and despite a few weeks of performances in late autumn, remained largely closed until May 2021. Even then, audiences had to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Despite the wonderful news, there are still concerns. How long it will be before foreign tourism returns to anywhere approaching pre-pandemic levels is anyone’s guess – although it’s unlikely to be until 2022 at the earliest. This won’t be such a problem for regional venues, but in a West End setting, most big budget shows rely upon a significant proportion of overseas visitors.
Another hurdle may be audience confidence. While the decision to lift restrictions has been largely welcomed, infections are still rising sharply. The government’s decision to revoke the law requiring the wearing of masks in settings such as enclosed public spaces and public transport, has left many feeling nervous. And that’s a problem for theatres who are reliant on public transport to bring in audiences. Only time will tell whether those concerns translate to a slower return of visitors. A recent theatregoing survey by From The Box Office certainly raised concerns about visitor confidence.
79% of respondents would be most likely to return with at least one form of safety measure in place (vaccine passport, covid testing or masks) whereas just 14% would prefer all rules to have been lifted.Theatregoing survey 2021: Impact of Covid-19.
The survey also indicated a split about how theatregoers felt about wearing masks in theatres.
And so, we should certainly celebrate ‘Freedom Day’ – it may come just in time to save many of our great theatres. But (and with apologies for using a traffic light analogy), it may still feel like we need to proceed with caution.
Love theatre? Can’t wait to get back to the West End? Why not check out our amazing Theatreland Guided tours!