Andrew Lloyd Webber made it clear to MPs on the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee that the Arts are at the Point Of No Return due to Coronavirus.
“We simply have to get our arts sector back up and running” was the message given to MPs by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer of ground-breaking British musicals who has also become one of the loudest and most effective advocates for the British Theatre industry since the pandemic started.
Following trials at the London Palladium to test measures Lloyd Webber imported from South Korea at a cost of £100,000 to himself, he hoped to prove that there might be ways to ease social distancing in theatres to make shows economically viable.
It’s frustrating that whilst Sleepless and London’s Bridge Theatre have re-opened with limited audience capacity, they form the exception with the majority of theatres including most in the West End yet to re-open.
Lloyd Webber went on to stress that it would take time to re-open productions in the West End. Rebecca Kane Burton, Chief executive of the LW Theatre group who run Lloyd Webber’s theatres said recent months had been “devastating and catastrophic” for the arts.
“It’s a really bad, catastrophic time and we need to find a way out of it. It was disheartening that the pilot wasn’t later seen as a way to getting full reopening.”
She added: “We need the time to plan. We can’t switch on theatre like a tap. Christmas is hanging in the balance as we speak.” Lloyd Webber added that re-opening a show like Phantom would take three to four months of preparation.
Meanwhile, Oliver Dowden still believing that pantomime could be saved for Christmas despite the deadline set by panto producers being the beginning of August was suggesting that rapid testing might help get theatres re-opened.
Many in the industry are pushing for the extension of the furlough scheme beyond October. Theatre Trust director Jon Morgan said, “Without an early date for theatres to re-open fully and with the furlough scheme ending in October we will see further redundancies and the permanent closure of more theatre”.
Lucy Noble, artistic and commercial director of the Royal Albert Hall told the DCMS Committee that “All venues are on their knees financially… When Oliver Dowden announced the £1.57 billion rescue package, the Royal Albert Hall was hailed as one of the crown jewels that this package would save.
“We have been told we are not eligible for any of the grant at all.
“We are only eligible to take a loan. We’ve already taken £10m worth of loans. We’d rather not get into any more debt.”
Thousands of freelancers continue to sink into the mire having not received any government support of any kind since March.
Meanwhile, the government continues to talk about the £1.57bn rescue plan which has still to full make itself available and convince itself that opening the bar spaces in theatres, or social distancing auditoriums means theatres are open for business. Theatres are not open for business and the longer uncertainty and dithering continues the worse things will get.