Indoor performances with socially distanced audiences will be permitted from Saturday in the U.K., secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Oliver Dowden revealed in a series of tweets late on Thursday.
Indoor venues were due to reopen Aug. 1, but were postponed due to a rise in coronavirus cases at the end of July.
“Important COVID update on @DCMS areas,” tweeted Dowden. “With everyone’s hard work we’ve continued to keep the virus under control so we can now allow more leisure, sport and cultural activities to reopen safely.”
“Indoor Performances with socially distanced audiences will be permitted from this weekend,” Dowden added. “Another important step on the recovery of the arts, helped by our £1.57bn rescue package. This Government is #HereForCulture
The theater sector has been one of the hardest hit in the U.K. due to the prolonged closure. A high profile casualty was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera.” In July, the government announced a $1.9 billion lifeline for the arts sector.
“Theaters Trust is pleased that theaters have been given the go-ahead for socially distanced indoor performances,” said Jon Morgan, director of Theaters Trust. “We hope that those theaters impacted by the delay will be able to resume with the shows originally planned. However, while this is a step in the right direction, it is just a small step. The majority of theaters will not be able to reopen while social distancing is still in place and with no decision on this being made until November at the earliest, the theater sector is still in very grave danger of irreparable damage.”
Green shoots in the sector emerged last week when London’s The Bridge Theater announced a David Hare play starring Ralph Fiennes that could open in September. And the National Theater has announced a late October reopening, beginning with one person play “Death of England: Delroy,” by Clint Dyer and Roy Williams, to be directed by Dyer, and performed by Giles Terera.
Dowden’s announcement has attracted comment on social media.
Paul Fleming, general secretary-elect of creative sector union Equity, tweeted: “If the full audience isn’t back, the full workforce won’t be back. This news makes clear that all @EquityUK members need income support, or we’ll lose diverse talent from theatre & variety. I hope @OliverDowden will meet with me soon & support our union’s four pillar plan.”
Artistic director and choreographer Matthew Bourne (“The Red Shoes”) tweeted: “Not financially viable!”
Independent theater producer Jo Crowley tweeted: “But social distancing necessitates underwriting loss. That’s why as a Uk co we’ll get work on overseas way before here. Cos their governments are supporting putting the acutal shows on. If you don’t do that it can’t happen. Without art, the Crown Jewels are just empty ghost ships”
November will be the earliest when the government would look at reconsidering social distancing rules.