UK theatres could reopen without social distancing within weeks

Posted on 6 September 2020

Two recent articles published in The Sunday Times and The Mail on Sunday tell us that West End and UK theatres could open their doors without social distancing in as early as just a few weeks. In a new "move at extreme pace" ordered by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, crowds may be encouraged to return to large venues very soon thanks in large part to rapid-result COVID tests and a new cut-price ticket scheme.

Dowden: "We need to start filling seats in larger numbers

It appears that things are finally moving forward to ensure culture can once again resume as normal. At a time when social distancing means venues can only host performances at 25% capacity (generally 70% to 80% capacity is needed in order for a show to be financially viable), the plan to remove socially distanced performances from Government guidelines could be the lifesaver theatres have been waiting for for months.

In an article he wrote for The Mail on Sunday, Oliver Dowden stated: "Mass indoor events are now in my sights...we need to start filling seats in much larger numbers – not just for the audiences, not just for the venues and livelihoods who depend on them, but for the entire urban economy, too."

Operation Sleeping Beauty is born to get theatres open and rekindle the flame

Dubbed "Operation Sleeping Beauty", the initiative has been made possible thanks to rapid coronavirus testing in which results can be made available within minutes.

"Testing is the short-term key until we find a working vaccine. We're making exciting advances in quick turnaround testing, where on-the-day coronavirus tests could give people who test negative a pass to visit the theatre that evening," the MP stated.

Although no exact timeframe has been officially set in stone, Dowden did mention that he "aims to bring back some of the magic of theatre for families this Christmas, and I hope to share more progress soon."

Seeing as how the UK Government's £1.57 billion relief package to save the arts will not be distributed until next month for smaller organisations and until December for larger organisations, this may be the extra boost needed to ensure a smooth return of the stage.

The Operation Moonshot programme plans to test up to 4 million people a day using the new saliva tests that provide results in mere minutes.

UK and West End theatres could re-open 1 November or sooner

Though it is hinted that 1 November could be the big reopening date for theatres, venues, and sports stadiums, this date could be pushed even sooner with rapid testing being the key.

Though UK ministers want venues to reopen without social distancing as quickly as possible so that pantomimes can resume this Christmas season as planned, many pantomime productions including Qdos pantomimes across the country have already postponed their runs whilst other venues have been faced with mass redundancies and furlough consultations.

Big-name shows with established productions, on the other hand, may not have very many problems reopening once they get the go-ahead to do so.

Currently, Sleepless: A Musical Romance is the only major London theatre show to be running right now with socially distanced performances at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre and has been met with an overwhelmingly positive critical response from audiences.

This is a developing story. Stay tuned for more details.

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Nicholas Ephram Ryan Daniels

By Nicholas Ephram Ryan Daniels

Ephram is a jack of all trades and enjoys attending theatre, classical music concerts and the opera.