Oliver Dowden wants theatres running by Christmas! But How?

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has proclaimed today that he wants theatres fully open by Christmas with his usual vagueness.

Socially distanced Troubadour Theatre Wembley. Photo: Mark Ludmon
Socially distanced Troubadour Theatre Wembley. Photo: Mark Ludmon

Oliver Dowden has once again taken to the media to “suggest” that theatres may be able to reopen fully by Christmas with social distancing dropped thanks to mass testing.

Dowden took to the Mail On Sunday today to self congratulate himself for the government’s world-beating £1.57 billion rescue package to “see them through the crisis”. He has also taken credit for seeking a second opinion and funding a study into transmission risks whilst playing instruments or singing.

Sleepless musical Covid visors
Sleepless musical provide COVID safety visors. Photo: Mark Ludmon

“When the study showed those activities posed no higher risk than shouting or speaking, we scrapped the extra restrictions and performers were back on stage together within days. A three-metre distance became one metre-with-mitigations overnight.” he proclaimed.

Mass indoor events are apparently now on his radar, following socially distanced performances indoors which have been allowed since mid-August and he praised the Bournemouth Symphony and new musical Sleepless which opened this week running at 25% capacity on purpose.

West End looking like a Ghost Town
West End looking like a Ghost Town. Photo: Mark Ludmon

Dowden said “But we need to start filling seats in much larger numbers – not just for the audiences, not just for the venues and livelihoods who depend on them, but for the entire urban economy, too. Theatre is a lynchpin of London’s West End and its absence is painfully reflected in its deserted streets.

“Innovation is key. It has the ability to rewrite the entire script, and I’m keen to take some of the best experimental ideas for getting people into our theatres safely and put them into practice. It could be using technology to improve ventilation in venues, as used in the pilots at The London Palladium and other theatres.

Palladium COVID prevention Oliver Dowden
Oliver Dowden and Andrew Lloyd Webber meet at the Palladium to discuss safety.

“Or using the saliva tests being trialled by Southampton University, which Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is looking at rolling out for performers and their families. Testing is the short-term key until we find a working vaccine. We’re making exciting advances in quick turnaround testing, where on-the-day coronavirus tests could give people who test negative a pass to visit the theatre that evening.

“These technologies are still emerging, but we will throw everything at making them work. We’ve got to consider every idea, and back several horses. We’ll also need organisers who can take on this challenge.

“There are people waiting in the wings to get full performances back on during the crucial Christmas period – and I want to support them.

A socially distanced London Palladium
A socially distanced London Palladium

“My officials are working on ‘Operation Sleeping Beauty’ which aims to bring back some of the magic of theatre for families this Christmas, and I hope to share more progress soon.

“I won’t allow the UK to be a laggard in the race to return live theatre. If we cherish the hustle and bustle of our cities and our vibrant urban economy, then we need to show our cultural organisations and businesses support now.

“We cannot guarantee plain sailing, and as with any part of reopening after lockdown, we cannot guarantee zero risk.

“That’s just as true when people sit next to each other on planes. But as with flying, we can minimise the threat and help adults find ways to feel a sense of normality – whether it’s by getting on a plane, enjoying a half-price meal out (as 100 million did last month), or, indeed, by visiting the theatre.”

It’s a self-written, ego-driven pat on the back from the Culture Secretary but panto allegories have a history of sneaking up behind you Mr Dowden. Oh yes, they do!

Are we encouraged, not really!

Read our summary of Panto closures and redundancies to date. We are expecting thousands more redundancies as consultations conclude.


Share via
Send this to a friend