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Phil Willmott

British Theatre Can Open from August! (Sort of) Our Guide to Making Sense of Some of the Government’s Jargon

London Theatre Last Thursday the British Government suddenly and unexpectedly announced that in-door theatre can re-open from August 1st.

But don’t imagine you’ll be able to skip along to the West End and reacquaint yourself with your favourite hit show anytime soon, as with all rules and regulations concerning the wretched Covid virus it’s way more complicated than that.

So what exactly was announced? Prime minister Boris Johnson made the following statement

"We will restart indoor performances to a live audience, subject to the success of pilots, and we will also pilot larger gatherings in venues like sports stadia with a view to a wider reopening in the autumn.”

The Society of London Theatres (Or SOLT as they’re known) rushed out a press release containing the following statement in response.

“This is another welcome step on the road map towards opening with full audiences very soon. As you know we have been pushing very hard to have clarity on dates on stages 4 and 5, so having this news on stage 4 is progress.”

If none of this is making much sense to you I'm not surprised “Pilots” “Road Maps”, “Stage 4”!?

Let me try and demystify some of it for you. Let’s start with the fact that we are at stage 4 of the “roadmap”.

This refers to the government’s earlier list of what conditions would need to be satisfied and in what order, to safely make theatre without risk of Covid 19 spreading amongst audiences and performers. The five stages of returning to normal are considered to be as follows -

Stage One - Rehearsal and training (no audiences and adhering to social distancing guidelines)

Stage Two - Performances for broadcast and recording purposes (adhering to social distancing guidelines)

Stage Three - Performances outdoors with an audience plus pilots for indoor performances with a limited distance audience from July 11. We will now also work with the sector to get small pilots started as soon as possible and will set out further details in due course

Stage Four - Performances allowed indoors / outdoors (but with a limited distanced audience indoors)

This seems to refer to various coming to fruition and that’s where we’re currently at. Happily with only one more milestone to reach -

Stage Five - Performances allowed indoors / outdoors (with a fuller audience indoors)

So how do we get from Four to Five?

Well, we’re told by SOLT that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) is working with the entertainment industry on “performances with socially distanced audiences that will inform final guidance for venues in the run up to August 1. We are currently working on 4 pilots with DCMS which will take place over the next few weeks and will be one-nighters in a variety of different theatres to demonstrate in practice how our venues can be COVID secure.”

Ah ha! So it’s all about those “pilots” that Boris mentioned.

Basically a pilot seems to be a trial run performance where households or family groups will be seated a socially distanced 1 metre apart from each other. The seats in between may be removed or blocked off.

Times of entry will be staggered to avoid crowds building up, there will be no interval and patrons will be welcome to leave their seat for the loo whenever necessary without having to wait for a break in the performance, which will be no longer then 90 minutes.

On the way in you may have to pass through some kind of temperature taking apparatus which apparently can tell if you’re likely to be infected or not. To get anywhere, once inside, you’ll have to follow arrows on the floor which will also dictate the direction of a one-way system.

And you may or may not have to wear a mask to watch the show, no one really knows yet.

But make sure you regularly check back for news from Londonboxoffice as everyone is encouraged to move away from paper tickets and to book via the venue’s web pages or through online sites like us.

Oh, and enough time has to be allocated between performances to allow for the entire building to be "deep cleaned".

I hope that’s made things clearer although hopefully you’re not reading this in Scotland or Wales. They’re to have their own independent regulations.

There’s also few details available about where and when the "pilots" will take place but by all accounts the first will be an orchestral concert at St Lukes. Not strictly theatre of course but I’ll try and blag a ticket and report back to you.

The big question for me is how will the success or otherwise of these pilots be judged?

Will the government consider they’re winning if no one gets sick in the morning?

Will they survey the audience to see how they enjoyed themselves on a scale on 1 – 10?