'Theatre is the heartbeat of London': Warning over 'devastating' impact of delay to lockdown easing

Theatre impresario Sir Howard Panter said the industry will suffer “significant damage” with the final lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England being put on hold.

The Prime Minister announced on Monday the ending of social-distancing rules, which had been scheduled for June 21, will be delayed for up to four weeks.

Many theatres have remained closed despite the ease in restrictions as it is not financially viable for them to open with reduced capacities.

Sir Howard, co-founder of theatre operator Trafalgar Entertainment, said theatre producers had “mobilised a whole industry” on the condition they would be able to reopen on June 21.

The Sondheim Theatre in London's Shaftesbury Avenue

The 72-year-old told said: “The reality is we have marched the troops up the hill.

“We have mobilised a whole industry in order to get going because we have been keeping the industry going for the last 15 months.

“It costs money.

“We haven’t had Government help.

“We have kept it going.

“And now, surprise, surprise, the industry needs some income.

“People need work.

“Thousands of people have been mobilised in order to work in the theatre industry, to start work from next Monday and now we are being told, apparently: ‘Oh no, it’s not that date.

“‘It may be some other date, we don’t really know’.

“The ramifications for the theatre industry are extremely serious.

“But also the ramifications for all the industries which frankly work with and collaborate with the theatre – restaurants, hotels, hospitality, transport, taxis.

“You name it.

“There is a huge industry that relates to theatre.

“Theatre is the heartbeat of London and of many major cities.

“You take that away and those places may not open anyway, but they certainly not going to open without theatres.”

Sir Howard, whose shows Anything Goes and Jersey Boys face costly delays, said that while uncertainty remained over whether there would be a third wave of Covid-19, he was clear about the “significant damage to the theatre industry and all related industries”.

He added that he was “less than enamoured” about this “U-turn again”.

“Why give the industry this kind of encouragement and all the other related industries this kind of encouragement?” he said.

“It costs millions of pounds, masses of people’s lives.

“I am not going to name names within our industry, there are numbers of people already suffering from mental health, social disruption, families are falling apart.

“What are we talking about?

“It is just disproportionate what’s going on at the moment.

“I’m not being callous about a few lives, I am simply saying it is disproportionate.”

Theatres Trust director Jon Morgan said a four-week delay to the end of lockdown restrictions would leave theatres unable to open with reduced capacity in a challenging position.

He said: “Today’s news of a four-week delay to step four of the reopening road map is wholly understandable given the rise in infection numbers and the Delta variant.

“However, it will be difficult for theatres who were depending on being able to reopen at full capacity and will already have committed considerable resources in preparation without the safety net of a theatre sector insurance scheme.

“Although many theatres have temporarily reopened with reduced audiences, continuing to operate at significantly reduced capacity is economically unsustainable.

“Other venues that were planning to reopen when full audiences were permitted may be forced to cancel shows.

“It is vital that the additional £408 million allocated to the Culture Recovery Fund in the Budget is distributed quickly and targeted to those organisations most impacted by this setback.”