There is finally some good news for theatre-lovers, with a West End group revealing it is set to reopen its venues from next month.
Theatres have been closed since the lockdown was introduced, with thespians warning of the devastating impact of social distancing on the industry.
However, there are finally some green shoots of recovery with the owner of the Apollo, Duchess, Garrick, Lyric, Palace and Vaudeville theatres announcing they will welcome audiences again from October.
The Apollo will be the first Nimax Group theatre to return, following seven months of closed doors.
It will open with This is Going to Hurt on October 22, which will run until November 8. The play is written and performed by ex-doctor Adam Kay with the first performance free and for NHS staff only.
However, Nimax has admitted its most popular production, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, still needs more work and is expected back at the 1,400-seater Palace Theatre early in the new year.
Nimax has admitted its most popular production, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, still needs more work and is expected back at the 1,400-seater Palace Theatre early in the new year
However, other productions will open from next month. The Apollo will be the first Nimax Group theatre to return, following seven months of closed doors
The Garrick theatre will also reopen, though there will be several restrictions to ensure socially distancing is maintained
Theatre-goes will still be able to enjoy favourites such as Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and comedy The Play That Goes Wrong, both returning in November.
Nica Burns, chief executive of Nimax, and her team have drawn up a 100-page guide for each of the six theatres to reopen.
The audience will be socially distanced with seats removed, giving patrons more legroom.
You will be able to buy up to six tickets online or on contactless devices available at the theatre.
Patrons will also have fill out a health questionnaire before they arrive.
However, if you feel unwell before the play, Nimax will offer you a refund or a change of date until 10am on the day of the performance.
Temperature checks and masks will be compulsory, with hand sanitation zones around each theatre.
Staff will also ensure a one-way system is followed with audience members marshalled to their seats and social distancing queues outside the toilets.
West End shows to return with special coronavirus measures
The Nimax Group, the owner of the Apollo, Duchess, Garrick, Lyric, Palace and Vaudeville theatres, has announced it will welcome patrons back to the West End from October.
- The venues will use the following measures:
- The audience will be socially distanced with seats removed, giving patrons more legroom.
- Patrons will have fill out a health questionnaire before they arrive.
- if you feel unwell before the play, Nimax will offer you a refund or a change of date until 10am on the day of the performance.
- Temperature checks and masks will be compulsory, with hand sanitation zones around each theatre.
- Staff will ensure a one-way system is followed with audience members marshalled to their seats and social distancing queues outside the toilets.
- There will also be click-and-collect drinks for audience members to purchase during the interval, to avoid queueing.
- Each theatre will also undergo regular deep-cleans.
There will also be click-and-collect drinks for audience members to purchase during the interval, to avoid queueing.
Each theatre will also undergo regular deep-cleans.
It is the latest measure taken by the Nimax group amid the pandemic.
Burns has not been taking a salary and senior managers agreed to a quarter pay cut to avoid job losses among Nimax’s 355 workers.
The venues will operate at half-capacity but will still make a loss because the business costs £750,000 to operate each month.
Burns said: ‘For our special season, our theatres will open with social distancing plus robust risk mitigation to comply with current government COVID-19 Secure guidelines.
Although with reduced capacities it is not possible to make a profit, we will be earning a contribution to our costs.
‘With the furlough support scheme ending on 31st October, this income will help us retain Nimax’s highly skilled, experienced workforce and give work to some of the talented tapestry of freelancers onstage and backstage.
‘We will also be able to support some of the many teams and businesses which together give our audiences a night to remember. Our theatre community cannot wait to get back to work safely.’
Adam Kay said: ‘It’s extremely heartening that Theatreland is starting to gear up again.
‘The people you see on stage are the very tip of the theatre iceberg – behind the scenes are hundreds of hard-working staff – from electricians to stage managers to lighting techs to box office to carpenters – huge numbers of whom fell between the gaps of government support.
‘I’m very proud to return to the West End, following the extraordinary efforts of Nimax to do so in a way that’s safe for staff and theatregoers alike, and doubly proud to open the run with a free show for NHS staff, who can clearly do with a night out more than anyone.’
Last week, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber said warned that the coronavirus crisis has pushed the arts to the ‘point of no return’.
The composer and theatre impresario lamented the impact of lockdown and social distancing, saying it had made it economically ‘impossible’ to run theatres.
Lord Lloyd-Webber complained that the Government had given him ‘no satisfactory answer’ over ‘anomalies’, such as why people can fly on a plane but not attend a musical without social distancing.
Giving evidence to the Culture Select Committee, he said Britain was a ‘leader in world theatre’ and should be given the green light to ‘demonstrate how we can reopen’.
Andrew Lloyd Webber (pictured giving evidence with theatre chief executive Rebecca Kane Burton) lamented the impact of lockdown and social distancing on the arts
‘We simply have to get our arts sector back open and running,’ he said. ‘We are at the point of no return really.’
Lord Lloyd-Webber cited an acquaintance who was ‘one of the finest viola players I know’, but was currently working in a supermarket.
‘There comes a point now when we really can’t go on much more,’ he said.
The Government rescue package was ‘giving money to buildings to keep the lights off’ and going down a ‘bottomless pit’ instead of ‘getting the buildings open’, he added.
The peer said he had spent £100,000 on a pilot project, trialling measures at the London Palladium, in the hope that it could show how they can open at full capacity safely.
‘I am absolutely confident that the air in the London Palladium and in all my theatres is purer than the air outside,’ he said.
Hinting at the consequences on the industry if there is not more support from the Government, he said his production of Cinderella might have to open ‘where people are being a little more helpful’.
And following a quip that he could stage a production on an aeroplane, he joked: ‘We did think of turning the London Palladium into a garden centre at one point.’
Rebecca Kane Burton, chief executive of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theatres, said recent months had been ‘devastating and catastrophic’ for the sector.
‘It’s a really bad, catastrophic time and we need to find a way out of it,’ she added.