Days after reopening, London theatres must shut

Many theatres in London have been closed since the beginning of the pandemic in March.
PHOTO: NYTIMES

LONDON - On Dec 5, Six - the hit show about the wives of Henry VIII - staged a triumphant comeback when it became the first musical to be staged in London's West End since the coronavirus pandemic began in March.

Now, just nine days later, that comeback has been brought to a sharp halt.

Britain's health secretary Matt Hancock announced on Monday (Dec 14) that the government was tightening restrictions in London because of a "very sharp, exponential rise" in coronavirus cases.

"For businesses affected, it will be a significant blow, but this action is absolutely essential," Mr Hancock said, addressing Britain's Parliament.

Many theatres in London have been closed since the beginning of the pandemic in March, though some smaller shows returned in the summer, with reduced audiences and socially distanced performers.

The announcement that London would move to Tier 3, the highest level of restrictions, was "devastating for the city's world-leading theatre industry," Mr Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre, said in a news release.

Theatres across London "will now be forced to postpone or cancel planned performances, causing catastrophic financial difficulties for venues, producers and thousands of industry workers," he added.

Several theatre producers echoed those comments in statements. The closure was "a hammer blow to an industry which has been fighting valiantly to bring culture and community to people's lives this Christmas," The Great Gatsby producers Louis Hartshorn and Brian Hook, said in a joint email.

Many theatres had begun presenting holiday fare, including several pantomimes, a particularly British theatre form, popular at Christmas: The National Theatre's production Dick Whittington opened Friday (Dec 11), and Pantoland, at London Palladium, began its run Saturday (Dec 12).

Mr Kenny Wax, one of the producers of Six, said he felt "incredible disappointment for everyone who's worked so hard" to bring shows back to the West End.

Mr Wax said he expected the closure in London would last at least four weeks. During that time, workers on his productions were unlikely to be paid, he said, adding that to do that without revenue coming in from ticket sales would bankrupt his company. But he said he hoped to get his shows back on as soon as possible to get money flowing to the many freelance artists who work on Six - not just the actors, but the musicians, technicians and ushers.

"If from now it's 'a few weeks on, a few weeks off,' we'll probably keep doing that," he said. "We'll keep trying."

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