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London’s showbiz shuts down

Terror attacks halt public transport in U.K. capital

This article was updated at 10:30 a.m.

LONDON — The entertainment biz in London shut down Thursday following terrorist attacks that left at least 40 dead and 700-plus injured.

The city’s legit activity ground to a halt, with performances canceled as far afield as Shakespeare’s Globe toward the southeast of the capital and west London’s Lyric Hammersmith as well as across central London’s West End. (Discuss this breaking story on our messageboards.)

In a virtually isolated instance of the show preparing to go on, the three-venue National Theater canceled performances in its two largest auditoria, the Lyttelton and the Olivier, but said the small Cottesloe auditorium would go ahead with its Shell Connections, a program of work by professional writers performed by students from around the country.

“All the young people are here; they’re staying three minutes away,” said an NT spokesperson, so that it would be pointless not to give students a chance to perform their work for whoever shows up.

Otherwise, going dark was the order of the day, even if “Chicago,” with Brooke Shields, waited until well into the afternoon to cancel its 8 p.m. performance at the Adelphi Theater.

The Royal Opera House pulled the plug on the evening performance of Verdi’s “Otello.” “There are no tube services, bus services and severely restricted services on main line trains,” said chief exec Tony Hall in a statement. “In all these circumstances, getting staff, artists and audiences to the Opera House and home again is just not feasible.”

In some cases, West End shows were adversely affected twice. “Billy Elliot — The Musical” and “Mary Poppins” are among the hit shows that have Thursday matinees, meaning the loss of two lucrative perfs. Ditto Shakespeare’s Globe, which also has a two-show Thursday.

Even out in west London’s Shepherds Bush, well away from the bomb blasts that shook a swathe of central London during the morning rush hour, the Bush Theater was canceling its perhaps unfortunately named latest entry, “The Obituary Show.”

Some of the cast come from Brighton, on England’s South Coast, so were unable to get into London.

Of particular interest will be the mood at the Royal Court when perfs resume on their current production, the all too aptly titled “Talking To Terrorists.”

London’s movie exhibition sector also shuttered. UCI and Odeon theaters in central London closed and other chains will likely shut their cinemas but were waiting for the dust to settle before making a decision. One exhib exec stated, “People are scared stiff of going into the West End.” The focus for central London workers is getting home. Transport is so severely disrupted that a trip into town for fearless cinemagoers is not an option.

Exhibs accept blasts will dent weekend biz. In its soph sesh, “War of the Worlds” had been trading exceptionally well and bookers predicted a drop-off of between 35% and 38%. Exhibs feel last Saturday’s biz was hurt by the televised Live 8 gigs so there is “still some ground to be made up,” although word of mouth is excellent.

The tendency for auds to rush to the multiplex to escape the barbarity of such events was played down by U.K. exhibs, who note that people’s immediate instinct is to go home and stay indoors with loved ones. That said, one exhib did note that “immediately after 9/11 rentals of disaster movies climbed.”

“Security in auditoriums will undoubtedly now become more of an issue. It can’t be long now until all bags are checked,” noted one deflated exhib. Crowded theaters remain a target for terrorist attack. Bookers also report problems with the physical delivery of prints to theaters.

The only major feature pic currently shooting on location in central London is Miramax/Weinstein Co’s “Breaking and Entering.” The Anthony Minghella-helmed pic suffered no real disruption, despite being based in King’s Cross, the scene of one of the explosions, according to Colin Vaines, Miramax/Weinstein Co’s Euro production topper. Vaine’s added there had been concern about a crew member who had been close to the bus blast, but he had turned out to be fine.

“The decision was taken from the top to carry on with shooting,” said Vaines. “In a way, it’s particularly appropriate that a film about people of many races working together in London should go on. If you surrender and stop working, then the people who do these things have won.”

The pic wasn’t shooting in King’s Cross this week, but further north in Primrose Hill, away from the main areas of disruption.

Woody Allen’s latest U.K. set movie, although based at Ealing Studios in London, is shooting in Oxfordshire this week, so similarly avoided the attacks. The untitled comedy, starring Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman and Ian McShane, started lensing on June 27.

As a numbed London attempted to come to terms with the attacks, TV schedules across the main terrestrial webs were ripped up to make way for extended news coverage of the bombings.

Both BBC1 and ITV1 abandoned their breezy daytime line-ups within an hour or so of the first of three explosions on the London subway. At 10.12 ITV1 dropped its normal programs to switch over to the rolling news channel, ITV News. A few minutes later BBC1 followed suit as its new service, News 24, replaced the line-up of advertised programs.

Those on duty included the BBC’s highly regarded security correspondent Frank Gardner, who had been due to leave for a vacation today but changed his plans when he heard what was happening. Gardner was himself seriously injured after being shot six times by gunmen in Saudi Arabia a year ago. His colleague, freelance cameraman Simon Cumbers, was killed.

A BBC report at 11.32 a.m. saying Arab sources had told the BBC today’s attacks in London were “almost certainly the work of al-Qaida” was based on information Gardner obtained from contacts.

Meanwhile as the details of the bombings continued to unfold, afternoon kids’ shows were shifted to niche webs. Something like a normal service was due to resume at around 7 p.m. tonight on BBC1 and ITV1, but more extended news coverage is planned. Over on Channel 4 and Five there was additional news coverage provided by ITN and Sky News respectively.

The entertainment biz in general was completely disrupted by the attacks with many staffers being stranded on their way in to work and hampered by problems with the phone networks. Those staff that did make it in were glued to the radio or TV. Most offices closed early and are likely to be closed Friday.

(Additional reporting by Adam Dawtrey, Steve Clarke and Leo Barraclough.)

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