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The UK’s first major indoor theatre show to open since March will have its world premier in Wembley next Tuesday.
The new musical, “Sleepless” is based on the 1993 film, “Sleepless in Seattle”, and means dozens of performers, musicians and technicians are back to work. They’re all being tested daily for Covid 19 and if anyone has a positive result - even the big stars - they’ll be replaced.
It’s a major milestone for the theatre industry to return to live indoor performances, with all the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Michael Rose, who has previously produced shows in the West End and on Broadway, hopes that where they lead, others will follow.
He said, “Being the first is like jumping into a black hole in many respects, but I think it’s really important that we do do this in order to get audiences used to going out again. I’ve got to say, it doesn’t make any economic sense. What I’m most excited about is the prospect of putting people back to work in our industry.”
The Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre is a new and spacious venue meaning social distancing for audience members will be less of a challenge than in some older theatres. Those watching the show will need to wear face coverings and numbers will be reduced to around 400 seats - a third of the normal capacity.
The show was originally due to open in March and its stars Kimberley Walsh and Jay McGuiness have remained on board. Jay uses a lyric from one of the songs to sum up the situation; “Its different. But different is fine.”
Kimberley says the daily testing, which is costing the production around £60,000, is reassuring.
I think we're very lucky that we have that knowledge that other people don't have. I feel quite confident going home to my family knowing that I'm actually fine, even though I have been out to work and been around people
With so many theatres staying shut and many Christmas pantomimes already cancelled, one of the country's most experienced panto producers says using arenas is another way to get shows open.
Jon Conway is planning to tour his production of Wizard of Oz at arenas in London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Glasgow over the festive season.
We think we could open perhaps to 50 or 60 percent capacity, maybe even more, because we’ve got very large venues that have got lots of entrance and exit points. We want to adopt an airline style seating, we’re going to sanitise the venues, we’ll give people visors and we may have to lose the interval
"I think although there are clearly physically limitations on some smaller venues, what we also have to do is look at a different financial model," he added.
Opening night for “Sleepless” on 25th August is likely to be an emotional affair for the cast and crew after so many months of all theatres remaining dark. Their determination to raise the curtain again, and their love of theatre, is doing it's best to shine through.