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Andrew Lloyd Webber voices frustration at lack of clarity around reopening

The composer has spoken in Bloomberg

Andrew Lloyd Webber
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Composer and venue owner Andrew Lloyd Webber has voiced frustration around lack of clarity surrounding reopening plans.

In a new interview with Bloomberg, the Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar creator highlighted how, in Bloomberg's words, "ministers have kept quiet on how and when they might reopen public spaces after the pandemic".

Lloyd Webber suggests to Bloomberg that his team "has pretty much led the industry here, and I know they're getting to the point where they don't know what more we can do."

Bloomberg also highlights just how vital the arts and culture industry is – generating £10.8 bn for the UK economy as well as providing 363,700 jobs (not including the benefits to the hospitality sector when audiences come into town and city centres, such as the West End).

Lloyd Webber's seven venues (the Adelphi, the Cambridge, Her Majesty's, The London Palladium, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Gillian Lynne Theatre and The Other Palace) are said to be costing £1 million per month to run even while shut. Lloyd Webber revealed he had to remortgage a home to help cover costs.

A key moment will come, according to Lloyd Webber and Bloomberg, when Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveils his budget on 3 March. Ministers need, before that time, to understand just how much of a money-driver a show or venue can be: "I've never come across anybody in my 50-plus years working professionally in the theatre who realizes exactly what a big hit musical or a big hit play brings back," Lloyd Webber says, "It is prodigious what it returns. We are an enormous earner for the country."

The freelance community, in particular, is in desperate need of support – with a large portion finding themselves ineligible for the SEISS (Self-Employment Income Support Scheme).

While the vaccination scheme is continuing at a rapid pace in the UK, it is currently unknown when social distancing measures may be eased – allowing shows to return with larger capacities. Greater clarity will likely come when the Prime Minister unveils an initial roadmap to reopening the country on 22 February.

Further testing of safety equipment and procedures will also be key to reopening in the UK, or, Lloyd Webber warns, producers may look to open elsewhere. As Lloyd Webber puts it: "theatre is a global business, and why would you open it in London if you feel that the government is not really behind it?"

Lloyd Webber's Cinderella is set to open this Spring.

A number of experts have highlighted the fact that opening too early may lead to further rises in cases, and as such caution may actually prove to be more effective. For now, all eyes are on 22 February.

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