Theatres will reopen in May – but limited to half capacity under coronavirus roadmap

Tony Diver
·2 min read
A London Palladium pilot performance with seats blocked for social distancing - Andy Paradise/PA
A London Palladium pilot performance with seats blocked for social distancing - Andy Paradise/PA

Theatres will reopen on May 17 but will be limited to half their total capacity with a maximum limit of 1,000 people, the Government has announced.

Restrictions on indoor events are among the strictest, with evidence showing that Covid is much more likely to spread between people who meet inside.

Theatre performances, cinemas and other live events will be phased back in as part of Step 3 of the easing of lockdown, but social distancing restrictions will be maintained and venues limited to a maximum capacity of 1,000 with no more than 50 per cent of seats filled.

There will also be a wider government review on social distancing rules in advance of the start of Step 4 on June 21, which could allow more tickets to be sold in the summer. Ministers are hoping to lift all restrictions on capacity for indoor events in the fourth step.

The theatre industry has previously warned that venues will not be able to turn a profit unless they are able to reopen more fully, with tight profit margins on ticket sales making smaller performances unviable.

For instance, Her Majesty’s Theatre, which hosts Phantom of the Opera on the West End, has a capacity of 1,216. Just 608 tickets can be sold per performance from May 17 onwards. The London Palladium has 2,286 seats, which means it will be less than half full when it reopens.

A separate government review into the role of testing and vaccine proof schemes will decide whether entry to performance venues will require proof of a negative test or a vaccine certificate.

The Government has previously ruled out domestic uses of vaccine passport schemes but suggested on Monday they could have a role in reopening the economy.

The theatre industry is one of the sectors of the economy worst hit by coronavirus and has received substantial bailouts from the Government to keep venues operating during lockdown.

A report last year by the Creative Industries Federation said theatres faced losses of £3 billion and 12,000 jobs in 2020, with more losses expected in 2021.

Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, said last month that the Government was "working intensively with all of the arts sector and theatres to see how we can mitigate risks".