Theatres will reopen subject to social distancing rules in May 2021, the Government has announced, but with no likelihood of operating at full capacity before late June at the earliest.
Prime minister Boris Johnson unveiled in Parliament today the Government’s four-step Roadmap for a staggered ending to the lockdown regime and a return to normal public life.
The initial easing of theatre restrictions comes into effect as part of Step 3, introduced no earlier than 17 May. These will permit indoor events of no more than 1,000 attendees or 50% capacity – dependent upon which is lower. This parallels the reopening plans for theatre originally mooted in December before the third lockdown period.
Outdoor events will be able to accommodate larger numbers, with a maximum of 4,000 people or 50% of capacity.
Step 4, which comes into effect on 21 June, will permit further relaxation of restrictions if these are supported by statistical proof that Covid rates are reducing satisfactorily, said the prime minister.
The premise is that fast lateral-flow testing measures would be in force to safely allow a return to normal allowances for audience capacity. However, if Step 4 does proceed on the planned date, it is by no means certain how quickly full reopening will come into force.
With a number of the largest musical shows due to open by June, producer concerns over costs and scheduling are likely to remain.
In response to the announcement, Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, said: “We welcome the Government’s roadmap announcement as the country takes the first steps towards easing lockdown – in particular, the news that theatre and live arts can resume performances for Step 3 with social distancing, potentially as early as 17 May. The real route back for the sector will be the Step 4 announcements hopefully enabling full auditoriums from 21 June.
“These dates are still subject to change, however, and even once confirmed it will take time for many of our theatres and productions to get back up and running. While they remain closed and as they return to full operation, we urge the Chancellor to continue with the financial support packages needed for businesses and individuals.”
Caroline Norbury MBE, CEO of the Creative Industries Federation, added: “Today’s roadmap includes some welcome milestones for reopening parts of the UK’s creative industries, including our world-leading theatres, cinemas and live events. However, it is critical that everyone in our sector is supported until they are able to resume normal levels of operation, which could be well beyond summer.
“It is vital that the Job Retention Scheme and Self Employment Income Support Scheme are extended, and support must also be guaranteed for the many who continue to fall through the gaps of existing schemes. Further Budget interventions, including Creative Industries Tax Reliefs and a government-backed insurance scheme for live events, are urgently needed.
“The creative sector is integral to the future of the UK. With the right support, it can not only bounce back; it can drive the UK’s economic recovery, regenerating our towns and cities, creating jobs and making our communities happier, healthier places for everyone.”
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