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Theatres urge government to rethink new tier system

Storyhouse Chester’s production of A Christmas Carol is back on - in fact it is one of the few around the region that can go ahead without problems.

The show will open on December 2 until January 17 following the government announcement that the Chester area will emerge from the current lockdown to tier two status - meaning theatres can open for business once again, and with increased capacity.

The Storyhouse show can be watched by up to 200 people at a time - and while this only 40 per cent of capacity, Storyhouse will present over 60 performances.

Chester’s elation is not shared by many of Storyhouse’s sister theatres - especially in Greater Manchester,  where from next week tier three status will mean theatres cannot reopen.

Manchester arts venues have already urged the government to rethink its tier system, especially since Covid infection rates are falling.

City arts complex HOME has joined local museums and other cultural venues in asking the government to reconsider its position, since these venues will be closed at the same time gymnasia and leisure centres and non-essential stores will all be allowed to open. This is in spite of the fact that most theatres have spent large sums making their facilities coronavirus-safe.

Councillor Luthfur Rahman OBE, the city council’s culture, leisure and skills chief, said: "Having followed to the letter every single rule laid down by government since March, the impact of this on Manchester's culture, events and hospitality sector is yet another nail in the coffin.

“We completely understand that in a pandemic public health has to come first, but the current restrictions are irrational and inconsistent and it's time for an urgent rethink.“

Meanwhile the city’s rearranged big commercial panto, at the Opera House, will not be cancelled if Qdos boss Michael Harrison has anything to do with it.

The country’s biggest panto production company’s 2020 winter season has been devastated by Covid-19, but Qdos had joined forces with the National Lottery to present 10 pantomimes, five of them now in tier three areas - including those in Manchester, Stoke and Newcastle.

Harrison says he is hoping for changes in the tier areas when the restrictions are reviewed after two weeks.

“We are not letting everything sink and we can move some things around and try and make sure we can deliver as many as possible in some shape or form,” he said. He called the government’s handling of the new tiers “appalling”.

Producers at Salford’s Lowry complex are in the position of having to possibly see their production of the musical Six postponed for the third time. Chief executive Julia Fawcett is hoping the tier arrangements in Salford will be reduced from tier three to tier two, meaning the production can go on from mid-December.

“[The tier three classification] is just very disappointing news," she said. "We obviously know safety is of the utmost importance, but when you look at the comparators with other sectors that are being allowed to open, it feels harsh when you see all the work the whole of the theatre sector has done to make venues secure.”


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