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What's happening with theatres since the extension of restrictions?

On Monday 14th June, the UK government announced a four-week extension to the current lockdown, extending current, phase three restrictions from 21st June to 19th July. This is a huge blow to the travel, tourism, hospitality and entertainment industries. Here at Theatre Workout we work across all of these sectors, and so we share the disappointment and frustration felt by so many of our partners.

For theatres, only a few shows across the country have opened since restrictions were lifted on 17th May. In the West End this includes the Mousetrap, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and Les Miserables.

Many more were planning to reopen in the next few weeks, when these restrictions should have been lifted, with the hope of welcoming back full houses.

The main issue for theatres is capacity, which is currently 50% or 1000 people, whichever is greater. This just isn’t financially viable for West End shows, which cost millions to produce, let alone run.

The extension also raises serious concerns about whether this will be the last extension, or will it extend again into August or September? Producers for many shows due to open in July and August are about to start rehearsals, so you can imagine how confusing it is and risky it is to reopen now.

Like many businesses, shows which have opened had budgeted to increase their audience capacity from next week, and so those plans have also had to be reworked. It is also worth noting that most West End theatres and productions have been ineligible for the government’s Cultural Recovery Fund, and so many have had little, if any financial assistance over the past 15 months.

The good news is, so far, all the shows which were planning to open in the next few weeks are still going ahead. Evidently too much has been invested to cancel or postpone now. This means that in the coming weeks the West End will finally start to look more like the vibrant place we all know and love.

So, if you want to see shows but have been holding off, please get in touch and book your tickets now.

Aside from only accommodating 50% of their capacity, social distancing is the main thing you’ll see in theatre for the next few weeks.

Once inside a building, audiences are asked to maintain a 1 meter + rule, so trying to stay at least one meter away from other people at all times.

If you’re just booking two tickets, you will have a vacant seat either side of you. If booking for groups, you’ll be booked in blocks of up to 6 seats, with single seats in between each block. So, groups are welcome, but they’ll be sat in those social distanced groups.

When I posted an update on West End ticketing a month or so ago, I said that shows could only book tickets this way, even for dates when restrictions should be lifted. It seems that that is still happening for the next couple of months at least, but, later in the year groups are being allocated as usual, and we’ve had several school groups book trips this week for the next school year.

I really want to emphasise how much theatres are doing to keep everyone safe. Face masks are currently mandatory throughout, and that’s likely to stay for a while, including during the performance, and theatres are probably cleaner than they’ve ever been. They’re being deep cleaned regularly, there are hand sanitisers everywhere, staff are masked, and many theatres are now using digital ticketing to minimise contact.

All of this means that shows and theatres simply aren’t making any money - at least not yet. All they can do in the short-term is reduce their losses and rebuild public confidence in going to the theatre. If you’ve seen our programmes on the Business of Theatre, you’ll know that it can cost tens of thousands a week to keep theatres dark, so they need to get back up and running as soon as possible.

If you do want to take a group to see a show before the end of the term, alarmingly there is still good availability. Even though school tickets are up to 75% cheaper than buying them for yourself from the box office, your group will be welcomed with open arms, especially in the traditionally quieter performances mid-week!

Our website lists all the current West End productions which have announced their reopening dates and group discounts, and we’re also adding details of major touring productions which we can also arrange trips to see, so if you want to see shows more locally then we can do that for you too.

This weeks it’s been great to see lots of schools are planning ahead for the new term, and not just for London. As I’ve said, there are many excellent touring shows planned like the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Hairspray and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, so please get in touch if you want to book trips to London or your local theatre. We can organise coaches, outreach workshops, and other bespoke resources on request, so please let us know what you want to do.

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