The earliest that U.K. theaters will be able to reopen is November, according to the latest guidance from the government.
Speaking with BBC Radio 4’s Today program on Wednesday morning, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden poured cold water on hopes that crippling social distancing requirements that have kept theaters closed will be lifted any earlier.
“The Prime Minister said a couple of weeks ago, when we get to November we will look again at social distancing, where we are with the spread of the virus,” said Dowden.
“We can’t give a stronger commitment than that, because, as we are seeing, the virus is rising in other countries around the world. The risk remains heightened. It is not the case now that we can move to ease social distancing. We are having to work hard to keep this virus under control and as soon as we can give that assurance, we will give it to people. But we are not in that place at the moment.”
“We are trying to reopen as rapidly as we can, consistent with public health, and given the global risks around the resurgence of the virus,” Dowden added. “So from the beginning of August we’ll be able to have indoor performances with social distancing, and if we can move to non-social distancing, we will.”
Last week, theater impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber urged the Prime Minister for a reopening date, failing which the pantomime business that is the backbone of the U.K. theater industry would collapse. “Boris, give us a date,” said Lloyd Webber.
On Tuesday, leading theater producer Cameron Mackintosh wrote in the Evening Standard newspaper: “Theaters aren’t meant to be dark, so please, Boris: ‘Curtain up, light the lights, we have nothing to hit but the heights.’ We are all raring to go back to work. But we need the money to survive and a realistic period of time to plan wisely so that the curtain stays up once we reopen.”
Mackintosh warned that the creative supply line has been ruptured for at least 18 months and London and New York cannot properly function until theaters reopen. Webber and Mackintosh’s “The Phantom of the Opera” is the latest high profile casualty of the coronavirus pandemic, closing its doors permanently following a 34-year run in the West End.
Dowden was on the Today program to talk up the government’s cultural recovery fund that goes into effect from Wednesday. “We are launching this scheme today, putting out the guidelines, and we’ll be allocating the vast majority of it over the summer. If institutions are in a situation where they need money more rapidly than that, we will make resources available if they are literally on the verge of going under. And we are working with other organizations, for example Arts Council England, to get that emergency support in.”