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London’s West End to reopen as hundreds of theatres remain closed

London’s West End theatres are among those to be allowed to reopen when the current lockdown ends on December 2 under England’s new three-tier system.

While hundreds of theatres and venues nationwide will be forced to remain closed and cancel their Christmas seasons and pantos, theatres in London and other areas in Tiers 1 and 2 will be able to reopen with a limited capacity next week.

The dozens of socially distanced productions scheduled to run over the Christmas period, plus numerous venues and major shows and pantomimes planning to return to performance for the first time since March can go ahead as planned. There are major pantos lined up, which are often the biggest earner for theatres over the course of a year, at the National Theatre and the Palladium, plus a number of smaller adult pantos.

December shows that can go ahead include the reopening of West End favourites Six and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, as well as the Christmas season, which includes A Christmas Carol and Death Drop.

Under Tier 2 rules, indoor venues can host audiences of 50-per-cent capacity, or 1,000 people in total, whichever is smaller. While many shows will not be affected by this move, there are very notable exceptions, such as the Royal Albert Hall, which had hoped to reopen with a capacity of 2,500, and has now been forced to cancel the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’, which was supposed to have a long run after Christmas.

In addition, it has been reported that the concert version of ‘Les Misérables’, due to run over Christmas, has an audience of 750 in a 1,074-seat venue, which seems likely to cause problems.

Society of London Theatre (SOLT) chief executive Julian Bird said the announcement about the tier system was “a relief for theatres in tier one and two areas, including London’s West End, but equally devastating for tier three theatres yet again forced to postpone or cancel shows – especially pantos, usually an annual highlight for families and a vital source of income for theatres around the country.”

He added: “This risks the survival of many venues and leaves thousands of theatre professionals struggling over the Christmas period, particularly freelancers who cannot rely on government support.”

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), echoed that sentiment as hundreds of theatres and music venues will remain closed, stating that the announcement has “brought about a stark reality to the night-time economy and hospitality businesses, diminishing hopes of trading through the key festive period for many, with a long winter ahead fighting to survive.”

He continued: “[It is] devastating news, particularly for the Midlands and north of England, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle, which have been hardest hit with the implementation of tier three, with the majority of regions being placed in tier two and very limited areas in tier one.

“Industry and business leaders are speaking up, highlighting the immense impact of restrictions to their sector, individual companies releasing huge redundancy figures, business owners suffering from mental health, and suicide rates within the sector steadily increasing.

“The government must compensate these businesses for the period of time they have been closed, and the loss of business suffered due to restrictions through the festive period. The sector has suffered horrendously since the start of the pandemic and is bearing the burden so that other sectors are able to open during the festive period.”

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