‘West End productions cannot survive under social distancing’ warn theatres

The four-week delay to easing lockdown restrictions will have “serious implications” for many theatres, with large-scale commercial productions at most serious risk, the industry has warned.

On Monday evening the government postponed plans to fully re-open society on 21 June amid a sharp rise in cases of the more transmissible Delta variant, which was first found in India.

As a result, businesses will be unable to open fully until 19 July at the earliest, meaning social distancing and limits of the number of people that can be inside at one time must remain in place.

Those operating in the hospitality and leisure sectors will be especially affected by the change of plan, as they will remain unable to fully fill their venues and therefore unable to start their post-Covid recovery.

Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatres and UK Theatre, an organisation made up of producers, theatre owners and managers, said the delay to full reopening would have “serious implications” for many theatres and performing companies around the country.  

“This delay not only impacts productions and theatres preparing to open in the next few weeks, but also shows currently running socially distanced, which had planned to increase their capacity – and producers making the difficult decision whether to start rehearsals for shows due to open in late July or August, with thousands of jobs hanging in the balance,” he said.

“Particularly at risk are large-scale commercial productions, which have received little or no Cultural Recovery Fund support and cannot survive under social distancing.”

According to the Society of London Theatre, weekly costs for large-scale productions can amount to more than £250,000, translating into losses if shows cannot fully open.

The Society said producers estimate that millions of pounds could be lost if shows have to be abandoned due to lengthy delays when relaxing Covid restrictions.

“We urge government to consider greater support for affected theatre organisations, by offering a tailored insurance scheme, allocating the remainder of the Cultural Recovery Fund, and extending full furlough and the Business Rates holiday,” Bird added.

Ros Morgan, chief executive of Heart of London Business Alliance, which represents 500 businesses in Piccadilly, St James’s and Leicester Square areas, said: “We had obviously been hoping that the full lifting of restrictions would continue as planned, so we see this as another government decision that will disproportionately affect London’s precious hospitality and cultural sectors, and prevent London from making the contribution to the UK’s economic recovery that it should be making.”

The timing was particularly bad, she said, as the end of the month will see the end of full business rates relief, the end of the rent moratorium and the start of businesses having to pay a proportion of furlough costs.

She added: “Central London’s businesses cannot wait to open their doors – but if government restrictions mean they cannot do so, or operate normally, then it is only fair that government continues helping them until business as usual can restart.”

A Treasury spokesperson said: “We are committed to helping businesses and individuals through the pandemic and deliberately went long with our support to provide certainty over the coming months.

“The furlough scheme and support for the self-employed is in place until September and eligible businesses will continue to benefit from business rates relief of 75 per cent over the year, VAT cuts and the Recovery Loan Scheme.”