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What to expect when theatres reopen: everything you need to know

We prep you for theatre's return!

The Apollo Theatre
© Siobhan Doran

The roadmap is in motion – with the death rate continuing to fall, it's clear that increased risk mitigation and the inexorable vaccine roll-out have really given a big boost to society. So, as we wait for stage shows to return, what happens next in the world of theatre?

Socially distanced performances are back in England this month

We're ten days from "step three" of the government's reopening roadmap – at which stage socially distanced performances should be permitted. While the government has not stated that this will definitely happen, today Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he saw "no reason" to adjust the dates, given the massive vaccine roll-out effort and the dropping case rates.

What will those performances look like?

Similar to last December's reopening conditions (but without the tiered system across the UK), socially distanced shows will be permitted either indoors or outdoors. There will be temperature checks, mask wearing, staggered entry times, increased emphasis on high-quality ventilation and regular Covid testing for cast and crew.

Sondheim Theatre
© Matt Crockett

What can I see?

What a great question! There's oodles on offer across England, with Scottish and Welsh venues also following suit over the coming months. We've created a list of what is available here.

Does that mean no more streaming?

Heavens no – lots of venues have committed to providing a few streamed performances for those unable or less willing to go to venues and see shows in-situ. These include the Young Vic, which announced a new season recently, as well as Chichester Festival Theatre and Bristol Old Vic. So it looks as though digital offerings are here to stay!

Why is everyone excited about 21 June?

21 June is currently the date pencilled in for when performances will be permitted without social distancing! As a result, a large body of producers have set opening dates for big shows without reduced-capacity audiences just after this time – including Heathers the Musical's West End return (opening the VERY DAY shows are permitted) and the world premiere of Cinderella at the Gillian Lynne Theatre.

Audrey Brisson as Amélie Poulain
© Pamela Raith

Is everyone opening at the same time?

No – some producers are having to re-rehearse, rehearse in new casts, re-build sets, build up advances – shows are staggering their returns across the months of July, August and September. You can find out what's opening here. The Times recently confirmed that it had had word from the inside that this was definitely what the government is currently planning.

Will things be back to normal then?

There won't be complete normality as Covid cases will likely still be prevalent. While we wait on concrete guidance from the government, don't expect to see mask wearing, temperature checks and staggered arrival times disappear any time soon. Some shows will still be social distancing even after this 21 June date just to stay on the safest side possible!

Covid status certification looks important

There are still dozens of questions surrounding the role of "Covid status certification" – essentially a way for a layperson to prove that they're sufficiently protected from Covid, or unable to transmit the virus. The vaccination roll-out, coupled with a major testing effort (you can now receive seven Covid tests for free via gov.uk) should mean this certification should be relatively easy to implement and care-free for the majority – hence why most of you were fully behind the scheme, according to our recent poll. However, more recent reports have suggested that this certification is not a done-deal, so we wait and see.

Pilot events have progressed well

Amidst all the excitement about dates, one key aspect of reopening theatres is the government's Events Research Programme. As you may have spotted from those amazing photos of a rave in Liverpool, this scheme sees state-led pilots of rapid testingand other risk mitigation measures such as mask wearing. You can have a look at which events are taking place here. There seems to be very positive news from Sheffield, where they have slowly been getting audiences back to capacity during the Snooker World Championships.

Insurance is increasingly important

What the industry needs, as has been repeatedly said, is some sort of government-steered insurance offering for producers. This can mean that venues can open more certain in the knowledge that if another lockdown occurred then they wouldn't be left in dire financial straits. Reports have said that discussions are ongoing – we'll wait to see what this year provides. As is clear, even if it's comparable to the flu or a seasonal virus, Covid will be with us even when it isn't shutting down society, so mitigating risks is always important.

Drive-in shows have roared back into action

In line with "step two" in the government's English roadmap, drive-in shows are already back! There's a raft of performances coming up, with venues including The Drive In in north London offering both cinematic experiences and live concerts