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What could happen to theatres in the Coronavirus roadmap on 22 February?

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

UPDATE: In the House of Commons on 22 February, Boris Johnson has stated that theatres could reopen again from 17 May, under step three of the roadmap. Find out more about the Coronavirus roadmap and how it affects theatre here.

On 16 March 2020, West End theatres were forced to close. At the time, Coronavirus was a growing threat to society, but nobody could have ever predicted just how damaging it would be. Although there was a glimmer of hope towards the end of 2020, theatres have been told to shut on numerous occasions; all venues nationwide are currently closed and live, in-person performances suspended.

Getting the country back on its feet and theatres open again won't be easy. Over the past year, creatives have gone the extra mile in curating livestreamed productions perfect for home-viewing, as well as making an archive of shows available at the click of a button. But, on 22 February, a roadmap will be unveiled that should (fingers crossed) bring the UK out of lockdown for a final time and get society back to a new normal once again.

Ahead of full details which will be announced by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson on 22 February, here's what could happen for the future of West End theatres. It's important to note that these are all hypothetical situations, based on what has been previously reported. Make sure to check back on LondonTheatre.co.uk on 22 February to find out what will happen.

Theatres can stay open for livestreamed performances

UPDATE: Theatres will be able to remain open as they are now for livestreamed performances. Check out our London theatre streaming guide

Although theatres have been shut for in-person performances, theatres have been allowed to stay open for rehearsals and livestreams, as they are deemed a safe place of work. So far, livestreamed performances have included Hymn, which will now receive a virtual world premiere at the Almeida Theatre. The world premiere of The Sorcerer's Apprentice at Southwark Playhouse has also gone online, but was able to be recorded at the off-West End venue as it could remain open for work purposes.

Digital productions have been a lifeline for the industry, bringing in much needed revenue for both national and regional venues. Even if theatres cannot open for live performances for a while, we'll continue to look forward to the best online alternatives.

Some theatres are given an opening date

UPDATE: Some theatres will be able to provisionally open from 17 May, as part of step three in the roadmap. 

During summer 2020, outdoor performances were given the go ahead across the country, with Regent's Park Open Air Theatre hosting Jesus Christ Superstar concerts. Over 60 artistic directors and creatives have voiced their concerns to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden about the need to open outdoor theatres again in a letter, which you can read here. With ventilation inside indoor theatres proving key to opening theatres once more, open air performances to a socially distanced audience could be allowed to take place again.

This year, upcoming open air performances in London include a revival of Carousel, as well as Romeo and Juliet and Dragons and Mythical Beasts. There's also outdoor Shakespeare theatres which could open again including Shakespeare's Globe in London and the Minack Theatre in Cornwall.

All theatres are given an opening date with social distancing regulations

Both indoor and outdoor theatres could be given a date which they can reopen on, lifting the suspension of all performances. It would take a little while for theatres to open again, as casts and creative teams would need to prepare. An exact date for productions to reopen is not set in stone, but many West End productions including Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and Hamilton have all set reopening dates this summer. Currently, theatres must open to either 50% seating capacity or 1,000 seats, whichever is lower, however capacity rules could change.

Theatres can open to a full audience again

UPDATE: All theatres will be able again as part of step four, the final step in the Coronavirus roadmap. Currently, step four is projected for 21 June. 

West End theatres haven't been open to a full audience for nearly a year. However, conversations about incorporating rapid Coronavirus tests for audience members as well as vaccine passports may affect future performances. Vaccine passports would mean that those who have been given the Covid-19 vaccine would be able to attend live performances, but implementing vaccine passports has not been confirmed.

On 15 February, Boris Johnson said: "lateral flow testing, rapid testing for those bits of the economy that are the toughest nuts to crack, such as nightclubs or theatres, those parts of the economy we couldn't get open last year... that will be the route that we go down and that businesses will go down." Check here to find out when theatres are opening again in London

Theatres can only open under certain conditions

If theatres are given the go-ahead to open again, it's likely there'll be certain conditions that theatres have to meet before live performances can resume. In the past year, Andrew Lloyd Webber has spoken out about the need to ventilate theatres securely, including the use of chemical triethylene glycol (TEG). Although government independent advisory body SAGE has dismissed the chemical, continuous lobbying could mean that TEG is the key to unlocking theatres again. There's also a study between the Arcola Theatre and Imperial College London working out how air quality spreads airbone viruses. Once these results are released, they're sure to guide how theatres open safely.

While West End theatres have been closed, renovation works have been taking place including at Her Majesty's Theatre. Although these are focused on scenic elements, updating the theatre's auditorium will also mean newer safety features are implemented. 

Only shows with smaller casts can open

If theatres can open again, it's likely that shows with small casts are able to be staged before musicals with a large ensemble. When West End theatres were last open, two-handers were popular including Love Letters at Theatre Royal Haymarket and The Comeback at the Noel Coward TheatreSongs For A New World was due to open at the Vaudeville Theatre, but is sadly cancelled. If theatres reopen soon, it's possible that shows with fewer cast members are prioritised.

A return to the tiered system will guide when theatres are open

UPDATE: There will be no tiered system when England leaves lockdown, with all parts of the country moving into different steps at the same time.

Previously, London theatres have been allowed to open if the Coronavirus rates of transmission were low enough to ensure safety for all parties. When the tiered system was introduced in December, London was placed in "tier 2", meaning theatres could open. Days later, London was placed in "tier 3", which closed theatres. Then, after what felt like just a few hours later, "Tier 4" enforced further restrictions and was essentially the start of a national lockdown

Instead of living in a national lockdown, the United Kingdom could be looking to a tiered system once again. Areas which are posting higher Coronavirus transmission rates could face tighter restrictions, while other areas can begin to reopen. If there is a return to the tiered system, London theatres may be allowed to reopen as long as London is in tier 1 or tier 2.

Theatres to remain shut for the foreseeable future

Advice may be that theatres are to remain shut for the foreseeable future, with a new date posted for theatres to open again. This could result in a further blanket cancellation of performances, which could affect opening dates of West End shows. Here's a full list of West End performances affected by Coronavirus which we know of so far.

No mention of what happens to theatre

The 22 February roadmap will be extensive. There'll be a great deal covered, but theatres may be excluded from the conversation, leaving the industry in the dark about their future. Obviously, we hope this isn't the case, and are looking forward to clarity for West End performances. But, it's worth keeping in mind that not everything might be discussed.

What West End shows are set to open this spring? 

Lots of West End shows have posted a spring 2021 opening, including new productions and revivals. Dance show Here Come The Boys is due to open at the Garrick Theatre this April, with Michael Ball in Hairspray at the London Coliseum. Carrie Hope Fletcher will play Cinderella in the world premiere at the Gillian Lynne Theatre this May, as well as Back to the Future at the Adelphi Theatre and Jersey Boys at the brand new Trafalgar Theatre.

It is likely that, after the 22 February announcement, shows will announce their immediate future. Make sure to keep checking back on LondonTheatre.co.uk to see what's happening in the West End. 

Check here to find out our top 10 shows coming in 2021

Photo credit: Empty theatre (Photo by Paolo Chiabrando on Unsplash)

Updates added 22 February after Boris Johnson spoke in the House of Commons.

Originally published on

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