After a two-week delay from the initially announced allowance, indoor theatres in the U.K. will be permitted to open with socially distanced audiences beginning August 15. As was the case when the country was initially slated to enter Stage 4 of its re-opening, however, this does not mean that productions are expected or willing to immediately resume performances.
Many British theatre producers—most notably Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber—have determined that it is not financially feasible to re-open until social distancing restrictions are eased, allowing for an audience capacity closer to what it was prior to the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the two bigwigs doubled down on this after the latter presented a socially distanced act from performer Beverley Knight at the London Palladium in late July. (The government is not expected to reconsider social distancing restrictions until at least November.)
Still, other institutions in the country have announced their intention to get back to work, albeit for a smaller audience. London’s National Theatre will present a new solo show by Clint Dyer and Roy Williams, Death of England: Delroy, in late October in its Olivier Theatre (with a seating configuration that meets proper safety protocols). Hamilton Olivier winner Giles Terera will star in the follow-up to the pair’s Death of England, which played the National earlier this year with actor Rafe Spall up until the theatre shutdown in March. Dyer will again direct.
Meanwhile, the London-based theatre company Defibrillator will present the world premiere of Gemma Lawrence’s Sunnymead Court in association with The Actors Centre beginning September 22. The audience will be capped at 28 per performance.
“While we welcome this news,” Equity, the trade union representing U.K. performers, said regarding the limited re-opening, “the majority of live performances can’t reopen with socially distanced audiences. Our members are still out of work and in urgent need of income support.” The union has proposed a four-pillar plan, the first of which is to establish direct financial workforce protections.
West End venues have remained closed since March, with productions announcing suspensions and delays on a rolling basis until, at the earliest, late September.