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Theatres dismayed by harsher coronavirus tiers

Empty theatres in tier three
Empty theatres in tier three

Theatres across the country are closed again – even though not a single case of coronavirus has been tracked back to a theatre visit.

The Prime Minister announced on Monday that the new, harsher three-tier system, which will follow the lockdown ending on December 2, will include the requirement for tier-three indoor entertainment venues to close, meaning theatres in those areas will be unable to reopen until further notice.

But as of this week theatres across the country have not reported a single case of theatre-related coronavirus transmission.

The Society of London Theatre, Leeds Playhouse, Salford’s Lowry complex and others from Chester, Leicester and London have already expressed bewilderment at the government’s Byzantine and haphazard, goalpost-changing rule pronouncements.

There is a small crumb of comfort for theatres in tiers one and two, where entertainment venues will be able to operate in a coronavirus-safe way. Theatre capacity can rise to 50 per cent (or 1,000) indoors, whichever is lower. Theatres in tier one can also open beyond the newly-announced 11pm curfew, so performances starting before 10pm can finish - though this is unlikely to assist many theatres.

The government will announce tomorrow (Thursday) which tier each area is in.

Chief executive of the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, Julian Bird, said the move will mean pantomimes - at least those not already postponed or cancelled - will now likely lose that lifeline.

He added: “It is unclear why these rules have been instituted in a sector with no known spread of the virus.”

Leeds Playhouse artistic director James Brining and Lowry chief executive Julia Fawcett have also voiced concern: the Lowry was still hoping to present its hit musical Six and children’s show The Gruffalo for Christmas, but the latter has already been converted to a live-streamed show.

Mr Brining this week told The Stage: “We’re bewildered by the change in the position of theatres under tier three. We worked incredibly hard to open safely and there have been no recorded instances of transmission in any theatres I am aware of.”

Mr Brining said putting the Playhouse back into tier three might mean cancellation of Christmas show A Christmas Carol - including denying 1,000 NHS staff and their families a free ticket to the show.

Oldham Coliseum had already postponed its famous panto this year and had replaced it with a production of A Christmas Carol, which was also cancelled. The theatre had been preparing to reopen in November, but quickly abandoned the plan when the second lockdown was announced. Though like Bolton Octagon, battling bravely despite losing its biggest earners of the year, the Coliseum took the latter’s lead and mounted a successful crowdfunding appeal to keep some money coming in.

“The Coliseum has received fantastic support," said chief executive Susan WIldman. "Having cancelled our Christmas production we are continuing our focus on digital, schools and community work, providing as many opportunities to audiences, participants and our freelance community as we can.”

In Chester, Storyhouse ran a successful open-air season in the summer and converted its theatre space into a cinema, without a single case across 56,000 visitors and 11,000 ticket sales.

HOME in Manchester opened its doors for a brief time and was not contacted about a single case of the virus among visitors.

Theatres that generally have done all they could to maintain Covid-secure auditoria have been rightly proud of their case-free results, and are demanding to know the government’s reasoning behind the harsher restrictions due next week.

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