Roar writer Matthew Seaman on the consequences of new Covid-19 restrictions on the theatre industry.
My last article, on the role of theatre as more than just a ‘hospitality industry,’ is already outdated, as London entered Tier 3, and now Tier 4. I spoke about the long-awaited return of the hit West End musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, which did enjoy its glorious reopening at London’s Apollo Theatre on Saturday 12th December. Despite being at fifty percent capacity, the audience managed to welcome the cast back with just as much energy as always. After what must have been an exhausting four shows in just one weekend, the inevitable, but no less painful, announcement came from Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye:
Grim News. Theatres in London to be told that they will have to shut down after Tuesday night’s performances. @CamMackLtd (Cameron Mackintosh) said “After Tuesday night we have no idea when theatres are to be allowed to reopen again… it’s a Christmas fiasco.”
As London entered Tier 3, we were once again faced with a dark theatre-land, and very little reason for optimism. I only hope that producer Nica Burns, and her team at Nimax Theatres, get the recognition they deserve for taking the bold step of reopening, whilst others have kept their productions dormant and actors jobless.
Frustration filled the industry again, and social media was flooded with images comparing the crowds on Oxford Street, where shops were permitted to stay open, with the Covid-safe measures and social distancing in theatres, which were forced to close. But as has been the case since the first lockdown in March, there are many individuals working to allow us the experience of theatre, even if we can’t celebrate its magic in person.
Despite the national lockdown-style restrictions in London, there are ways for theatre-fans to remain entertained in these difficult times, and moments of virtual performance to look ahead to. In the new year, producers Greg Barnett and Hugh Summers will present Monday Night At The Apollo. Inhabiting the space that is home to Jamie, the Apollo will feel like an ‘intimate jazz club’ as we see some well-known West End cast members take to the stage. They hope to welcome audiences in-person, while streaming virtually to those who prefer to watch from home or cannot make it to London. Waitress‘ Lucie Jones, Doctor Who‘s Arthur Darvill and Company‘s Rosalie Craig will all appear in the first show, and the other performers are yet to be announced for this concert-style production. It promises to celebrate theatre and music, and provide us with some much needed entertainment.
And although across the pond Broadway sees no prospect of reopening, another exciting event in the making is TodayTix and TikTok‘s collaborative project: Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical. Live from New York City, January 1st will see a streamed showcase of music inspired by Disney Pixar‘s Ratatouille, all written by international creators from the Chinese sensation app. This proves the importance of theatre as a community activity, and how, for many people, the boundary between the stage and audience is absent.
Whilst Hamilton, The Book of Mormon and Mary Poppins have all announced their 2021 returns, it seems we must learn to get used to the virtual means of performance, and although the palpable energy in the auditorium will have to wait until the virus is under control, the intent, passion and hard work behind the scenes are all still there.
King’s College London students can use the code ‘KINGS20’ for £10 tickets to the virtual shows at Thespie.