Is Theatre Covid Safe – My Experience

Theatre Land can be a contentious place sometimes and the current discussion about how Covid safe theatre is a prime example of this.

It all came to a head following Songs For A New World at The London Palladium, produced by Lambert Jackson. I attended the evening performance and the safety measures visible to audience members in place were –

  • Temperature checks upon arrival
  • Paperless tickets and card only transactions.
  • No physical bar open and drinks orders taken from the seat and delivered to you from the ushers.
  • Masks work whilst in the theatre, only removed to eat or drink. If you are medically exempt then you are given a wristband to wear in order to show this.
  • (And for the controversial one) Socially distanced seating. The venue was at 50% capacity and you were seated in your bubble. To either side of your bubble there were at least 2 seats unsold. The rows behind and in front of you were staggered (or as the theatre describes it in a checkerboard formation). Rows had also been removed in order to allow more space between each row. There were markings on the chairs that depicted which seats were off limit.
Mark Shenton’s photo on Twitter

However a photo taken by critic Mark Shenton which depicts, what looks like, a crowded auditorium has been shared. His linked tweets states:

‘…just one worrying note I didn’t share amidst the celebration. The (lack of) social distancing. Yes theatre protocols ace but seating, at least in stalls, was every single row and only distanced by leaving a single free seat between parties. Seating wasn’t even staggered – centre aisle had people on end seats of every row. So I’m not sure this really was safe. ‘

I do think the photo deserves further examination. Due to people sitting in the seats it is difficult to clearly see the number of seats between each bubble. You can however see that the audience are wearing masks and those that are not may have simply been caught momentarily removing them for a drink/food.

I took 2 photos pre and post show (to the right and below)without the majority of the audience in their seats. These show markings on the seats depicting which seats could not be sat on which gives a clearer indication as to the sheer number of seats that could not be sold.

Mark Shenton’s photo then got picked up and has been shared numerous times, in particular by football supporters who are angry that fans are not allowed into stadiums to watch the Beautiful Game. Many football fans took to Twitter to call the audience at the London Palladium ‘luvvies’ or to state that the audience was ‘full of Tories.’ Whilst I have a lot of sympathy for sports fans, especially fans of lower league clubs this is not a time to be turning on each other. Sports and the arts have a lot in common and a successful trial at the theatre can hep further football fans own cause.

Produced Jamie Lambert has made the following statement:

‘Sunday was nothing sort of an absolute miracle. The work, time and effort gone into producing a show at the Palladium during this time was monumental from all sides…LW Theatres put a titanic amount of work and money into creating as Covid-safe an environment as possible. Temperatures were checked on arrival, there was a one way system, door handles that cleaned themselves, masks were mandatory unless eating or drinking, an in-seat bar system was in place to stop people moving about unnecessarily and hand gel was provided in abundance. More importantly there was one metre between bubbles and social distancing was in place. LW worked hard with local authorities to put this into play and bring forward a seating plan that was financially viable.

It is well within anyone’s rights to question their safety during these times. The vast majority of the responses from Sunday was extraordinary and positive, exactly what our industry needs right now but the misinformation and inflammable tweets posted yesterday have caused damage to the reopening of our theatres. One picture in particular has been quote tweeted multiple times by people who aren’t even industry related, further spreading misinformation.

Had anyone decided before posting such things to contact LW and allow them to explain their protocols, this might not have happened. Furthermore I hope anyone within our industry criticising the extensive Covid protocols in place on Sunday haven’t been to a pub, restaurant, shopping centre, supermarket or used public transport since March, because the measures in place within the theatre were significantly stricter and more deeply considered than any of the above. In this new world, we really need to be working together to get theatres reopened. On Sunday cast, creatives, crew, backstage staff, marketers, front of house and more were in a west end theatre, working on a musical show for the first time since lockdown began – and that’s absolutely something to celebrate, and not just for our industry – a step for us is a step for everyone, whether sports, hospitality or any other industry which has been decimated by this terrible pandemic. ‘

I fully stand behind everything that Jamie has said above and can endorse the steps taken on the night as an accurate reflection of my own experience.

From a personal point of view I felt safe and certainty a lot safer than I have in some restaurants that I have been to. I think it is notable that the 4 times I have had my temperature taken are the 4 visits to the theatre.

It is at times like this when the theatre industry needs to pull together and support each other. In my opinion it is astounding that a show like Songs For A New World could even go ahead. It not only created work for the performers and musicians on stage but technicians, ushers, marketers as well. This is a much needed lifeline for the theatre industry and if this goes ahead in a safe way it can pathe the way for future shows. I can understand if individuals do not feel comfortable attending the theatre, especially those with underlying health conditions. However if you are comfortable attending a restaurant or bar let me express that from my own experience there are many more Covid measures in place at the theatre.

If you like this article you might also like my review of Pippin at Garden Theatre, Jesus Christ Superstar at Regents Park Open Air Theatre, Fanny and Stella (which details the Covid Measures at Garden Theatre) and my article on how amateur theatre is racist

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