LW Theatres chief executive Rebecca Kane Burton has claimed a pilot event held at the London Palladium will enable theatres up and down the country to reopen their doors.
At the test event, held to see how theatres can reopen safely, she said LW Theatres had employed the head of pharmacology at the University of Oxford, along with six other “erudite scientists”, to write a report looking at methods of getting theatres reopened, and which measures will enable that. She said LW Theatres had been through an 18-week process to see how venues can reopen.
“In this way, we can help theatres up and down this country to not have to go through that 18-week process that we have gone through,” she said.
Speaking at the Palladium event – which saw audiences seated to watch musical theatre actor Beverley Knight perform – with social distancing in place and in masks, she said the event shown had the organisation runs a “tight ship”.
“What a relief to have this building back open and to open with Beverley Knight. Sure, this building is not anywhere near where it should be. I want to get this place back open, with no social distancing, but hopefully today has demonstrated we run a tight ship,” she said.
She added: “We know how to manage things. We have all the right mitigations in place and people just need this back in their lives. Beverley needs it, the artists need it, the freelancers need it - the 290,000 people in our industry need to get back into work. We are not a risk – we know how to do things properly.”
She said it was also needed for the health of the wider economy.
“The West End is very, very quiet and you can see the impact of not having theatres. Restaurants aren’t open, bars can’t open, there is no life out there, this is the beating heart of this country and it’s dead,” she said, adding: “It needs us and we can do it, and we can do it safely. Hopefully today is the first step to show the world, and whoever needs to see the evidence, that we run a tight ship.”
Kane Burton also expressed her difficulty at getting people within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to understand the nature of commercial theatre.
“The public sector is more well versed with government, but as the commercial sector, it was evident to us no one in DCMS understood how we worked. And that was our job - to educate them and explain the timelines, the lag, the amount of time it takes to get a show on. I would hope no one in DCMS is in any doubt now about the time you need to do that.”
She added: “We have never had to have that before because we are self sufficient. Let me open those doors. I don’t need government money.”
She also queried why people can go on flights, or in swimming pools, but not into theatres.
“Why can you fly back from Australia, 22 hours on a plane and sit cheek by jowl with people and not be able to sit in a theatre?” she asked, and said Public Health England was currently “overworked”.
“I don’t think any of them have had a day off since January or February, and they are struggling, they are overwhelmed. The workload coming their way is absolutely extraordinary, which one might expect in a pandemic, but what I hope today has proved - as a number of them were here today - is our ability to run a professional ship.
"If you can swim in a swimming pool and share your saliva with people, I don’t think there is a problem sitting in a theatre seat and enjoying a professional performance on stage.”