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Andrew Lloyd Webber says theatre at ‘point of no return’

Theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber said that theatres are “at the point of no return” as the sector continues to reel from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking to the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, Lloyd Webber, who was joined by the chief executive of LW Theatres, Rebecca Kane Burton, stressed the importance of naming a conditional reopening date for theatres.

He said: “We simply have to get our arts sector back open and running. We are at the point of no return.”

The composer, who has written a number of hit musicals including Phantom of the Opera, told MPs that reopening theatres would not be economically viable with social distancing in place.

He said: “There comes a point when we really can’t go on anymore. Theatre is an incredibly labour-intensive business. In many ways putting on a show now is almost a labour of love. Very few shows hit the jackpot in the way a Hamilton, Lion King or Phantom Of The Opera do.”

Burton added: “We don’t want to open theatres on a socially distanced basis. I have no intention of opening buildings at 30% capacity.”

Lloyd Webber also discussed the “critical” importance of clean air within venues, stating that he is “absolutely confident that the air in the London Palladium and in all my theatres is purer than the air outside.”

Asked about his final message for the government, the theatre boss said: “Give us a date”.

In July, LW Theatres-owned London Palladium, one of the West End’s most prestigious venues, hosted its first patrons in more than four months as singer Beverley Knight performed in a test event.

Lloyd Webber said he had been trialling measures at the London Palladium that could allow the theatre business to return after a production of Phantom Of The Opera was able to continue in South Korea with strict hygiene measures and no social distancing.

He said he spent £100,000 on the pilot event in the hope that it could allow the theatre business to reopen without social distancing in place. However, the famous venue was limited to 30-per-cent capacity to comply with the government’s social distancing guidelines.

Image: Tracey Nolan / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Edited for size