Photo credit: The Prince of Egypt (Photo by Matt Crockett)

"No limit on the number of people attending theatre": Could theatres reopen at full capacity from 19 July?

Venue capacity restrictions, as well as social distancing are expected to be dropped in a matter of weeks.

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

UPDATE: Health Secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed that England will move to the next, and final, stage of the Coronavirus roadmap on 19 July. This would mean that theatres can reopen at full capacity without the need for social distancing in auditoriums.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Javid said: "We firmly believe this is the right time to get our nation closer to normal life. To those who say why take this step now, I say if not now then when."

Javid has also said that vaccine passports should be used in high-risk settings - details on what settings constitute high-risk are to be released. The government will publish a plan detailing the "safe and gradual" approach to normality. This is expected to include businesses and large events using vaccine passports in high risk settings. It is also expected and recommended for people to continue to wear face coverings in indoor settings.

Fiona Allan, President of UK Theatre, said: "We are relieved to hear that theatres in England can open from 19 July. This will hopefully be a turning point on the road to recovery and longer-term financial viability for our world-leading sector... As throughout the pandemic, the safety and confidence of our audiences and staff remains paramount. Theatres will continue to use our industry-wide See it Safely protocols, which have been updated and reissued following the changes in Government guidance for live events. The majority of Covid safety measures will remain, including a strong recommendation of the use of face coverings, as advised by the Government."

Julian Bird, Chief Executive of SOLT and UK Theatre, said: 'The thousands of people who have already come back to the theatre since 17 May have been overwhelmingly positive about their experience and how safe and comfortable they felt. As we increase capacity, we want to ensure that this positive audience sentiment remains. Measures remaining from 19 July include: 

Enhanced cleaning
Hand sanitiser stations
Wearing of face coverings strongly encouraged, especially while moving around inside the venue
Modified routes around the building to avoid overcrowding
Recommendation that theatregoers bring minimal possessions
Contactless ticketing, possible staggered arrival times and security checks
Restricted Stage Door activities post-show

The following measures will cease from 19 July:

Socially distanced auditorium seating (although some productions may continue to offer some or all of their performances as socially distanced over the summer)
Restrictions on booking party size and limitations to households or bubbles
Compulsory temperature checks before entering the venue (although some venues may still require these - information will be available on individual venue websites)
Compulsory check-in via the NHS app before entering the venue

Eleanor Lloyd, President of SOLT, said: "Producers want to get our industry back on its feet, creating employment and entertaining audiences across the country - but we are doing so under debilitating self-isolation rules and still without the protection of cancellation insurance. This is not a sustainable situation, especially as the safety net of the Culture Recovery Fund continues to leave many productions ineligible for support. [We need] an alternative to automatic self-isolation for casts and crew after contact with a positive Covid case, allowing workers to test themselves out of isolation rather than potentially shutting down an entire production." 

Even though Step Four of the Coronavirus roadmap was delayed from its original date of 21 June, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has given a news conference which confirmed Step Four could go ahead from 19 July. 

As said by Boris Johnson in today's press conference: "This pandemic is far from over and won't be over by the 19th. In these circumstances, we must take a careful and balanced decision and there's only one reason why we can contemplate going to Step Four in circumstances where we'd be locking down further, that's to the continued effectiveness of the vaccine." 

As part of the five point plan, there will be a move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make informed decisions. From Step Four, all legal limits on the number of people at an event will be removed, and all businesses can reopen. There will be no limit on the numbers "of people attending concerts, theatre and sport events." The one metre rule on social distancing will be removed, as will the legal obligation to wear a face covering, but guidance can suggest where you may choose to do so. There will be no Covid certificate needed as a condition of entry to any venue or event, although businesses and events can make use of certification. 

Prior to the news conference this afternoon, reports stated that Test and Trace will no longer be in operation either, meaning people will not have to check in for each place they visit.

Details on how productions will be affected by the Test and Trace app are to be announced. Currently, Hairspray and The Prince of Egypt performances are cancelled, while Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat had to postpone their opening date. Read more about London productions affected by Coronavirus here.

When are West End shows opening at full capacity?

Currently, all West End shows are operating with a socially distanced audience, in line with Coronavirus regulations. But, shows may be allowed to welcome in larger audiences if restrictions are lifted. Here's which West End shows could open at full capacity in the coming weeks. Read more about the four steps in the Coronavirus roadmap.

The Prince of Egypt currently has a full capacity date from 6 September, but this could be brought forward. The Prince of Egypt is at the Dominion Theatre.

Other shows which are either reopening at full capacity in July, or could increase their capacity to 100% include the following, with further details to be confirmed:

Everybody's Talking About Jamie at the Apollo Theatre.
Oleanna at the Arts Theatre.
Amelie at the Criterion Theatre.
The Play That Goes Wrong at the Duchess Theatre.
Billionaire Boy at the Garrick Theatre.
Cinderella at the Gillian Lynne Theatre.
ANNA X at the Harold Pinter Theatre.
The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre.
Hairspray at the London Coliseum.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the London Palladium.
The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre.
Six at the Lyric Theatre.
Wonderville Magic & Illusion at the Palace Theatre.
Come From Away at the Phoenix Theatre.
Pretty Woman: The Musical at the Savoy Theatre.
Be More Chill at the Shaftesbury Theatre.
Les Miserables: The Staged Concert at the Sondheim Theatre.
The Mousetrap at St Martin's Theatre.
Heathers The Musical at Theatre Royal Haymarket.
Jersey Boys at Trafalgar Theatre.
Constellations at Vaudeville Theatre.

Photo credit: The Prince of Egypt (Photo by Matt Crockett)

Article Originally Published: 5 July 2021

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