English theatres will finally be able to reopen their doors from next week after the Government today confirmed the next stage of its post lockdown roadmap will begin on 17 May 2021.
Initially, managements must maintain social distancing – limiting numbers to 50% of capacity or 1,000 people overall for indoor venues, depending upon whichever is the smaller amount. Other measures will include facemasks and staggered entry slots. Parallel rules permitting 4,000 people or 50% of capacity will be enforced for outdoor venues.
SOLT and UK Theatre chief executive Julian Bird responded to the news from Downing Street with relief in an official response on behalf of the two organisations.
“Today’s confirmation that Step 3 of the Government roadmap will go ahead on 17 May is very good news, allowing England’s theatre industry to begin the process of reopening.
“A number of theatres will be welcoming audiences back to socially distanced performances while also creating work for our world leading workforce.”
After a year that has seen venues and companies forced to temporarily close and in some cases permanently cease operation, and thousands of performing arts professionals seek employment elsewhere, the list of scheduled reopenings is growing.
A host of London and regional theatres had prepared to open next week in anticipation of the Government announcement. These include flagship venues such as the Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells, plus West End long-runner The Mousetrap, Shakespeare’s Globe, Jermyn Street Theatre and Southwark Playhouse.
Also on the list are leading regional sites such as the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough and the Royal & Derngate in Northampton.
Among the West End musical theatre highlights of the first week will be the Les Misérables – The Staged Concert at the Sondheim Theatre and Six at the Lyric Theatre
However, venue operators and production companies whose finances have taken a year-long hit during the national lockdowns are impatient to see a rapid return to full opening in order to bolster the theatre economy and provide much needed employment.
The Government’s staged reopening roadmap had envisaged 21 June as the earliest possible date for the end of social distancing in venues and elsewhere.
Said Bird: “We are optimistic that this announcement paves the way for a full reopening from 21 June, and it is hugely encouraging to see audience confidence growing, reflected in increasing ticket sales.”
Among the other UK nations, changes have either yet to be confirmed or will be more restricted. Both Northern Ireland and Wales are expected to issue announcements shortly, while Scotland is likely to introduce its own smaller capacity Level 2 rules next Monday.