Andrew Lloyd Webber wants ‘clarity and consistency’ before re-opening theatres

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Media captionAndrew Lloyd Webber: ‘Theatre can’t run with social distancing’

Theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber has called on the government to provide “clarity and consistency” on the vexed issue of reopening the UK’s theatres.

He said things were “hopeless” without a date on which theatres are allowed to reopen without social distancing.

Last week the government announced that indoor performances with socially distanced audiences can take place in England from the start of August.

Yet Lloyd Webber said theatre was “not economically possible” on that basis.

“The average play needs a 65% capacity and a musical needs more,” he explained.

The composer also expressed bafflement as to why people are allowed on a plane or inside a pub yet are not permitted to watch a live performance indoors.

“All we want is clarity and consistency,” he told the BBC’s arts editor Will Gompertz.

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Media captionHow theatre can reopen during the pandemic

Lord Lloyd-Webber said the seven West End theatres he owns were currently costing him more than £1 million a month to run.

“It’s a lot of money and we can’t do it indefinitely,” he said. “We’ve reached our borrowing limits.”

The co-creator of such hit shows as Cats, Evita and The Phantom of the Opera said he had been told the government’s “aspiration” was that theatres can fully reopen in November.

“No one can do that on the basis of an aspiration,” he said. “We need a date we can open on.”

‘Way down the scale’

Last month Lloyd Webber told the BBC he planned to conduct a series of tests at one of his theatres with the aim of showing the government that venues like it can reopen safely.

The 72-year-old said he wanted to trial hygienic door handles, thermal imaging cameras and other measures that have enabled The Phantom of the Opera to reopen in South Korea.

This Thursday will see a socially distanced pilot at the London Palladium featuring singer Beverley Knight.

Yet he said what was really needed was “a pilot where we don’t need social distancing”.

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Beverley Knight has been asked to take part in a pilot performance

Lloyd Webber said “we could open tomorrow” were the government and Public Health England to give the go-ahead.

The problem, he suggested, was that theatre and other forms of live performances were “way down the scale on what people consider important”.

“I don’t think theatre is number one on the government’s list of priorities,” he continued.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden intimated otherwise last week, saying the UK’s performing arts sector was “renowned across the world”.

“I am pleased that we are making real progress in getting its doors reopened to the public with social distancing,” he said.

In a statement given to the BBC on Monday, a DCMS spokesperson said: “People can already attend performances outdoors and indoor performances to a socially distanced audience can begin from 1 August, subject to the success of pilots.

“We have worked closely with the sector on a clear roadmap to get performing arts back up and running. We have provided detailed guidance to ensure venues can put in place the necessary measures to keep audiences, cast, crew and venue staff safe for when the doors reopen to the public.”

Last week’s measures followed the announcement of a £1.57bn support package to help both major venues and local institutions.

Earlier this month the producers of The Mousetrap said the long-running mystery would reopen in London in October with social distancing in place.

The Old Vic, meanwhile, has announced that Andrew Scott will star in a new one-man play, to be streamed live from the south London playhouse.

The Sherlock and Fleabag actor will perform just five performances of Three Kings by Stephen Beresford to viewers at home and an empty auditorium.

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