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The London Palladium Pilot Event

Posted 24th July 2020

Yesterday, The London Palladium hosted a spectacular live performance by Beverley Knight as part of the Government‘s official pilot programme. The event, the first live, large-scale performance since the start of lockdown in March 2020, was conducted with a socially distant audience, allowing us to test the wide range of new measures to support the reopening of theatres, at full capacity, all over the country.

These included temperature checks at the entrance, socially distant queuing, a one-way system throughout the venue, hand sanitiser stations, contactless payments, Silver Ion hygienic door handle covers, and the wearing of face coverings. Audience members were asked to wear their face covering at all times (except when eating and drinking) and adhere to safe distancing throughout the venue, to align with government guidance. We collected detailed feedback from the audience following the performance to aid the reopening of theatres.

Demonstrating that we can get audiences safely back in our theatres without social distancing remains our priority. This pilot is an important first step in that direction as we fight for the support, guidance and clarity we need to get theatres, at full capacity, back up and running all over the country.

To open the momentous event Andrew Lloyd Webber took to the stage to give this impassioned speech.

“This is a rather sad sight. I am so grateful to you all for coming and being our guinea pigs like this. But the Palladium is meant to be full. It’s a theatre that wants to love you. I think this [event] will amply prove why social distancing in theatre doesn’t work. It’s a misery for the performers, I know. Thank you, Beverley [Knight] for being so brave as to be with us. If this was a comedy, one of the things you like to hear is other people laugh, and if you’re miles apart it’s no good. But, it’s a start.

I know it’s a sad sight, but one thing I would like to say is [culture secretary] Oliver Dowden is really trying to do his best for all of us. I know it’s a difficult time and he’s had an awful lot of other things on his plate as well. I think what he is trying to negotiate for the arts is great, although we would love to know what that [emergency funding] package means at some point. That would be quite helpful.

It all came home to me the other day, thinking about that package, and I was working in Abbey Road with a socially-distanced orchestra. That’s an interesting experience, when you have not got all of the orchestra together and have to do it in bits and pieces. But that is another thing. I ran into one of the country’s greatest viola players, an extraordinary instrumentalist, and I asked what she was doing and she said she was packing groceries. This is where we are now and we have to do something about it.

This is why we are here today. I want to stress one thing. The measures we are taking at the Palladium are not about getting the London Palladium open – it has nothing to do with that. It’s about my passion for theatre and for live entertainment all over the country, all over the world.

Up there, I can see the seat I sat in the first time I ever saw anything in live theatre, which was the Palladium pantomime when I was about seven. It’s one of those experiences you cannot ever eradicate. One of the things that turned me on to theatres and I was lucky enough that soon after that I fell in love with musicals and saw My Fair Lady and West Side Story. They were live, it was theatre and it absolutely grabbed me. Theatre is my life and the one thing that I really feel I can do is give something back to the profession that has been so good to me.

We brought in these measures from Korea – very lucky that when lockdown started here, The Phantom of the Opera in Seoul reopened. They were very much ahead with all the measures and we were able to adopt all of the measures Korea had. One of them – a couple of things that may not be obvious – is that this theatre was fogged yesterday and the chemical that it is fogged with is effective against the virus for four weeks, but we would do it every fortnight. Another thing that is extremely important is the quality of air in buildings and here in the Palladium and all my theatres I think air quality is vitally important as it helps the audience experience, and apart from anything else nobody wants to be stuffy. The air here is sucked in from above the building and is then filtered, and expelled from through the building in a better state than when it came in, so you are safer in here than you are on Oxford Street.

But, I wanted to conclude and remind us all theatre is not like the cinema. You can’t just get a film and project it. When we are allowed to reopen again, it is going to take at least four to six weeks even for a long-running show to get back up again, particularly now as actors have moved on or whatever.

And the second thing I think is important to remember is a new show will take much much longer than that – it could take nine months. You have to make decisions about whether to build scenery and you have to get shops open to do all of that. It’s not something that can be done just like that. So, what we badly need is a date when we can reopen, a date that at least we can be given as a target. Of course, we all understand that if there is another spike in the virus – or god forbid the pandemic rethinks itself or whatever – we absolutely know we can’t reopen, but we need a target date when we can reopen without social distancing.

A musical needs to take 70% capacity just to break even, let alone repay all its investment, and a play a little less. But we have to have our theatres able to be full again.

One final thing in emphasising that – I think it’s vital – vital – you understand this is not about my theatres, it’s about getting all venues where live entertainment takes place open. We must make a plea for the regions and pantomimes. I know from Michael Harrison, one of the great pantomime producers in Britain, that if he doesn’t know by August 1 that pantomimes can open without social distancing that he cannot proceed and that means that the lifeblood that theatres depend on will evaporate and go and this cannot be allowed. We must get the regional theatres open.

So my plea to Boris is “Give us a date, mate”.”

Let The Music Play

We want to take a moment to celebrate the brilliant work done by those who have kept us all going during this difficult period.

● To all the NHS workers, carers and front line workers
● To our casts, crews, producers and partners
● To our staff, friends, families, colleagues and neighbours
● To our audiences

Thank you for your ongoing support in these uncertain times. We look forward to reopening our doors and welcoming you back soon.

*Designed by Matt O’Reilly from the Front of House team at The London Palladium