Words by Elijah Arief
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on the 22nd of February during a government briefing that theatre’s will be allowed to reopen with some restrictions on the 17th of May at the earliest. The reopening is part of the government’s supposed roadmap out of lockdown which is first taking place on March 8th when children across the UK will be returning to schools.
The government believes that by late May we will be in a safe enough place to reopen our live entertainment sectors, however this is subject to successful mass vaccination and a reduction of hospital admissions and deaths.
The PM has also suggested a formal relaxation of rules is planned for June 21st, where we can see a total relaxation of social distancing measures, face masks and venue capacities will be able to go back to normal. The government’s current ambitions are to provide a very staggered and measured route out of our current lockdown, and to make sure the arts sector can reopen once more and have normality back by the summer.
Johnson has previously mentioned that lateral flow ‘on the day testing’ is key to getting our theatres reopened, however this has been met with much confusion and many have been quick to criticise the government’s plan, suggesting that Johnson is putting all of his eggs into one basket, and that he hasn’t thought through how rapid testing will occur with many trying to get into a late night theatre show, or gain admittance to a nightclub.
Questions of cost have also come into play, with many questioning who will pay for the new ‘on the day’ testing. Will it be the audience, the theatre or the government? Matters of ethics have also arisen, with a lot of debate occurring around how ethical it will be to test people before they can enter a space. Indeed, this decision does seem rushed and inaccessible and like Johnson has set out a plan without much thought to how it will play out.
The West End has already set dates for the reopening of many shows, including Hamilton, Les Misérables, and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s new musical ‘Cinderella’. The Opera House Glyndebourne has also announced plans to enact its annual festival.
The annual Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe have also been given the all clear to go ahead, with registration now open for both festivals however news is still yet to arrive about whether or not these performances will be entirely live, or if the festivals will contain a blended approach of both live and online productions.
However, Johnson has noted that the “end is in sight” and that his current plan will move the nation “cautiously but irreversibly towards reclaiming our freedoms”. This is certainly something to look forward to, and many arts industries now have a key date for when they can reopen back to the public again, and we can take this as the first sign as something to get excited about.