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Andrew Lloyd Webber: 'We are now at the point of no return really'

The composer and venue owner spoke to the DCMS committee regarding social distancing in venues

Andrew Lloyd Webber
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Composer and venue owner Andrew Lloyd Webber and LW Theatres chief executive Rebecca Kane Burton gave evidence in front of a DCMS committee today to discuss the future of theatre and the role of social distancing.

Lloyd Webber did not mince his words: "Theatre cannot operate with social distancing." The composer took time to reflect on the policies introduced in his South Korean production of The Phantom of the Opera (which remained open for all but two weeks of its run) and how he had brought such measures over to the UK to guarantee safe shows without limiting capacity: "We were ahead of the curve and convinced and that, if we took one of our theatres, we could demonstrate that theatres could reopen safely at capacity."

The Jesus Christ Superstar and The Phantom of the Opera creator also stressed that shows will not return overnight if given the green light: "We can't switch on theatre like a tap...Say take Phantom – it would take a minimum of three to four months to get it back up and re-rehearse." A new musical, Lloyd Webber said, would take close to six months, with the opening of his new ''Cinderella'' still up in the air despite a spring premiere date.

He also called on the government to push for greater insurance schemes to help producers feel more secure if another wave of the pandemic comes, noting that while some producers: "shut the theatres up, get rid of all the staff and wait for a vaccine", he is keen to find solutions: "For producers to know that they'd be covered would be a very important measure".

Lloyd Webber was not best pleased with the distribution of the £1.57bn support package, saying a large amount of money will be thrown into a "bottomless pit" rather than being used by brick-and-mortar venues to make themselves Covid-secure, or, in turn, support artists who have been able to find work. At the moment they are just "being given money to keep the light off."

But most of all, Lloyd Webber kept pushing for a date to plan for: "We are at the point of no return now."

Recently, he has taken a trial Covid vaccine, claiming he'd do 'anything to prove that theatres can re-open safely'. In France, events without social distancing (though with mask wearing) are now permitted in non "red zones" where the spread of infection is deemed low.

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