Andrew Lloyd Webber plans to test the safety of reopening theatres during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic at the London Palladium, one of the seven theatres he owns.
The composer explained his plan in a recent interview with the BBC, pointing to a production of The Phantom of the Opera that has been running in Seoul, South Korea, for over two months.
"The key thing is that they have incredibly good hygiene in every single possible way [at the Blue Square cultural complex in Korea], both backstage for the cast and the crew and the orchestra, but also for people in the front of the house," Lloyd Webber said. "The whole point is to try to make people feel as safe and secure as they possibly can."
Among the safety procedures in place are thermal sensors to take the temperature of all in the theatre, hygienic door handles that self clean, a light disinfectant that is sprayed on audience members and throughout the theatre, hand-sanitizing stations, and the mandatory requirement to wear masks. Strict guidelines have been implemented backstage as well, although social distancing is not possible either in the front or back of the house.
Lloyd Webber said he will implement all of these procedures in his upcoming test at the Palladium.
"What I hope to do is to be able to demonstrate to the government what has happened in Korea [can work] at the London Palladium, hopefully in the first week of July...We hope to have [all the equipment] in the theatre next Monday, and then we're going to do a whole series of tests there to see whether or not it's going to work."
The Phantom composer explained he chose the London Palladium, which was to be home to a return of the Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat revival this summer, because of its size. "It's the biggest theatre we have, and therefore it's the most problematic, so we want to demonstrate there that this could work."
Although the South Korea production of Phantom is still running, its engagement has not been without problems. The 1,600-seat venue was shut down for several weeks weeks when one of the cast members contracted the virus at the end of March. The musical reopened April 23 and continues through August.
"I've been over 50 years in the theatre," Lloyd Webber told the BBC. "It's my life; it's my blood. It's been absolutely awful to see everything that I've loved in my life gone. The theatres are my way of putting something back into the business that's been so good to me. I want to prove they can be open."
Theatres across the West End and the U.K. shut down March 16, days after a similar restriction was placed in New York. All shows are currently closed through at least August 2, though many have already announced that their hiatuses would be longer. Frequent Lloyd Webber collaborator Cameron Mackintosh, for instance, will not reopen his theatres (which include the homes of The Phantom of the Opera and Hamilton) until next year.
READ: London Productions of Hamilton, Mary Poppins, More Won’t Reopen Before 2021