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Theatres across UK step up security in wake of Manchester bombing

What does the heightened terror threat mean for British theatre? Photo: Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock What does the heightened terror threat mean for British theatre? Photo: Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock
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Theatres around the UK have ramped up security in the face of heightened threat levels, with venues enforcing stricter bag checks and restricting access to their buildings.

It follows advice that theatres should ensure their staff and buildings are prepared to deal with an attack, after the bombing in Manchester on May 22 that killed 22 people.

The National Theatre in London confirmed it has put enhanced security measures in place including restricted access to the building and bag searches. The theatre is advising audiences to arrive earlier for shows to allow for extra time to carry out increased security measures.

The Royal Shakespeare Company has also stepped up its security in Stratford-upon-Avon, with bag checks at all performances and a small-bags-only policy for entry into the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan Theatre.

“We will continue to be vigilant, as we know every one of us plays a role in keeping people safe from harm, and will continue to offer our warmest welcome to visitors, and to ensure that everyone is as safe and secure as possible,” a spokeswoman for the RSC said.

On May 27, the Old Vic Theatre in London was evacuated during a performance of Woyzeck, starring John Boyega, after a security alert was raised.

A statement from the theatre said: “Audience safety is our priority and on the afternoon of Saturday May 27 we evacuated the Old Vic as a precaution. The incident was found not to be suspicious and following Met Police advice, the evening performance went ahead as planned.”

The Old Vic’s increased security measures include introducing additional security guards, while it will continue to search all bags, conduct security checks of the building and the perimeter and drill exercises for members of staff.

The UK’s threat level was increased to critical in the wake of the Manchester attack, and reduced back to severe on May 27.

Performances at major Manchester venues continued the day after the attack, however enhanced security has been put in place.

Sheena Wrigley, executive director of Home, said it had decided against implementing bag checks, but more security staff were in attendance and 24-hour site security had been implemented. Staff have also been briefed about increased vigilance.

Following the attack, advice sent out by the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre – the membership organisations representing theatres and producers in the capital and the rest of the UK – recommends theatres review events taking place over the next 20 days and any high-profile attendees.

Among other recommendations for venues are ensuring first-aid points are fully stocked and made clear to staff, and raising awareness on the full range of attack methods to include vehicles, knives and suicide bombers.

Venues are also being asked to ensure security staff are vigilant and proactive in monitoring their area for suspicious activity, to try to minimise crowds and to be aware of who is arriving and leaving the premises.

Theatres are also being advised to pay extra attention to areas around exits, especially when staff and audiences are leaving.

HQ Theatres, which operates 12 venues around the UK on behalf of local authorities, confirmed that it had reviewed its safety procedures, emergency planning frameworks and event-specific security measures, all of which were already in place.

Operations director Alvin Hargreaves said some procedures had been enhanced following the Manchester attack, and the company had reviewed pre and post-show access to buildings as well as looking at the daytime operation of theatres.

“You’re looking for practical measures, but you’re also looking for measures that give the public reassurance. That’s a tricky balance to get right sometimes,” Hargreaves said.

Ambassador Theatre Group, which operates more than 30 venues across the UK, including the West End, confirmed to The Stage that security measures at its theatres had also been stepped up, including bag checks.

Key recommendations:

  • Ensure staff and buildings are prepared to deal with an attack
  • Encourage security staff to be vigilant and proactive in monitoring business areas for suspicious activity
  • Work together with nearby businesses to ensure shared areas are protected
  • Try to minimise crowds and be aware of who is coming in and out of premises
  • Keep buildings secure where appropriate
  • Pay attention to areas around exits, especially when large numbers of staff and customers are due to leave
  • Be proactive in telling audience members around changes to procedure, advising them not to bring large bags and allow more time to enter venues

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