Andrew Lloyd Webber tells MPs the Arts are 'at the point of no return' due to pandemic

  • Video report by ITV News Arts Editor Nina Nannar

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has said the arts are at the "point of no return" following economic damage caused by the pandemic.

The musical theatre impresario told MPs that it would be economically “impossible” to run theatres with social distancing.

Lord Lloyd Webber told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee: “We simply have to get our arts sector back open and running. We are at the point of no return really.”

He added: “There comes a point now when we really can’t go on much more.

“Theatre is an incredibly labour-intensive business. In many ways putting on a show now is almost a labour of love.

“Very few shows hit the jackpot in the way a Hamilton, Lion King or Phantom Of The Opera do.”

Lord Lloyd Webber, who has composed 21 West End musicals including Cats and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, launched a £100,000 pilot trialling social distancing measures in theatres.

The project trialled measures at The London Palladium after Phantom Of The Opera continued in South Korea with strict hygiene measures and no social distancing.

He had hoped to show that theatres can open at full capacity safely.

Asked if he had been given an answer about why people could fly on an aeroplane and not attend a theatre show, Lloyd Webber said: “No, I have not had a satisfactory answer.”

Following a lighthearted suggestion that perhaps he should stage a play on an aeroplane, he replied asking if you could “put a stage on a plane”, adding: “It could be quite a good thought. We did think of turning the London Palladium into a garden centre at one point.”

Theatres cannot operate under social distancing measures, Lloyd Webber said. Credit: AP

He added that theatre productions are “not like cinema, you can’t just open the building”.

He estimated that a production like Phantom Of The Opera would take “between three or four months” to get up and running again.

He added: “A new show coming from scratch, that would be longer. If I were allowed now to go ahead with my new show – the earliest we could start rehearsals would be January because we’ve got to cast it, we’re doing the best we can with socially distanced auditions.”

Lord Lloyd Webber is confident the air inside his theatres is cleaner than it is outside.

“I am absolutely confident that the air in the London Palladium and in all my theatres is purer than the air outside.”

His production of Cinderella might have to open “where people are being a little more helpful”, he said.

Asked about his final message for the Government, the theatre boss said: “Give us a date”.

Lucy Noble, artistic director of the Royal Albert Hall, told MPs that all venues are "on their knees financially" and revealed that her organisation was unable to claim any of the government's £1.57 billion rescue package for the arts sector.

There are “huge consequences to venues not being able to put performances on, serious financial consequences… all venues are on their knees financially,” she said.

The Royal Albert Hall was told it was not eligible for any of the government's arts support grant. Credit: PA

She told MPs: “When Oliver Dowden announced the £1.57 billion rescue package, the Royal Albert Hall was hailed as one of the crown jewels that this package would save.

“We have been told we are not eligible for any of the grant at all.

“We are only eligible to take a loan. We’ve already taken £10 million worth of loans. We’d rather not get into any more debt.

“So that’s disappointing…

“I don’t think it’s quite ended up being what it was hailed to be. People saw that announcement and thought, ‘the Royal Albert Hall is OK now’.

“So the philanthropic gifts have stopped coming in because they think we have been saved by the Government, when in fact we haven’t at all.”

If the Royal Albert Hall cannot open fully until Christmas next year then we are in a “serious” and “mothballing” situation,” she said.

She denied having the Proms without an audience in the venue sent a “damaging signal”.

It has “given people hope”, she said. “You need months to remobilise."

"It was just too late, the news came too late,” she said of the Government’s announcement on allowing socially distanced, indoor audiences.

The Royal Albert Hall has 80% of its staff on furlough “so it’s not as simple as just saying: ‘you can have an audience’,” she added.

In June, an ITV News survey, distributed through the Independent Theatre Council and the Music Venue Trust, revealed that 97.5% of venues and companies surveyed feared permanent closure due to the pandemic.