The U.K.’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden announced July 17 that the country would enter Stage 4 of it’s “road map” to reopening beginning August 1. The new phase permits indoor performances (with social distancing guidelines in place) at theatres, music halls, and more.
Though the move indicates a step toward revitalizing the British theatre scene amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it does not mean that productions are necessarily prepared to immediately resume and remain financially feasible.
The announcement from Dowden follows the implementation of pilot programs the government is facilitating with various arts organizations, including the London Symphony Orchestra. Separately, Andrew Lloyd Webber is conducting his own safety tests, modeled after practices at a South Korean production of The Phantom of the Opera that weathered the pandemic, at the London Palladium.
Currently, all West End shows are closed through at least August 2, though many have already stated that that date is too soon to ensure the necessary public safety measures are met. Mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh, for instance, intends to keep his shows (including Hamilton, Les Misérables, and The Phantom of the Opera) dark through the rest of the year, underscoring the financial strain of both the shutdown and the logistics of playing to a limited audience.
Outside of London, many cities in the U.K. face a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, causing an outdoor, arena-style tour of the musical SIX—permitted under Stage 3 of the U.K. plan—to be canceled three weeks before launching.
“It takes time for shows to rehearse and prepare and to build up an audience,” notes Society of London Theatres and U.K. Theatre Chief Executive Julian Bird. “However, this is another welcome step on the road map towards opening with full audiences very soon.”
Across the pond, Broadway performances are on hold through at least January 3, 2021.