VIEWS: Theatre today – Lurching from farce into tragedy?

Yet another uneventful fortnight in theatre. Leading producers going to the High Court to instigate legal proceedings against the Government for failing to release the findings of its report into large crowd events and its effect upon spread of Covid. Seasoned producers deciding to call it a day because they can’t stand the uncertainty anymore. Shows both large-scale (at the Coliseum) and small-scale (at the Royal Court) announcing triumphantly that they’re open for business and within a few days being forced to cancel ten days worth of shows due to positive Covid testing amongst the show staff. Meanwhile in the streets football fans run riot across London with outbreaks of violence and drunken and disorderly conduct, potentially fuelling the huge rise in the UK’s Covid cases without even a mention from the Government or the media.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s tantrum/marketing pitch is what we have come to expect from the man who sailed too close to the earlier “Freedom Day” announcement and decided to pack his theatre hosting his new show from the off, and spent the next few days doing his King Canute pose while his hard-working Box Office staff resignedly got on the phones and dealt with the reality of the situation.

The Government’s indolence has been another thorn in theatres’ sides. Over one year after a sound and comprehensive insurance scheme protecting against stoppages caused by Covid outbreaks was laid out for the film and TV sectors to take advantage of, no such structure has appeared for theatres and their hard-pressed producers. Level playing field, I don’t think so. The (excuse my laughter) Culture Secretary tells us “they are working on it”. What will their next big announcement be? They have discovered something called “talking pictures”?

We absolutely need to see the results of the large scale pilot events held two months ago. Why they should be held up is anyone’s guess. Mine is that they show that things aren’t as safe as they hoped they would be, and so to suppress the findings would let them get to July 19th (which from now on we shall call “Lemmings off a Cliff Day”) and simply shrug their shoulders, noting a fait accompli.

Responsibility has never been in the toolkit of this most inept and underhand of governments. Just look at the casual way they acknowledge there may be 2 million Covid cases over the summer; where has the “Protect the NHS” slogan gone? Perhaps they think that by letting nature take its course they are keeping the NHS in long-term work. Of course, the comic masterstroke was appointing as Health Secretary a banker. And just look how they saved us in 2008!

It is great that theatre is slowly returning, and I hope that return brings an increasingly smaller number of outbreaks. But the idea of encouraging everyone to throw all caution to the wind and do whatever the hell they want to rubbish the sense of responsibility which is still far too lacking in our selfish society. Rights and responsibilities are inextricably linked. You have your rights – but with rights come responsibilities – including a responsibility to respect other people’s choices.

On a related point, some people have said to me that having had both vaccination jabs, that they are “immune”, which is not actually true. What is true is that the vaccines have greatly reduced the extent to which you are likely to be seriously ill , hospitalised or die if you become infected with Covid, which is still possible, but at a lower percentage of possibility than when you were unprotected. The risk to you, although smaller when vaccinated, is still out there. Covid can damage you. And, in case you missed this, research has discovered that Covid is not so much a respiratory disease, it’s a vascular one- which means it affects your blood vessels.

I don’t believe that theatres will be able to abandon all mask policies in the short-term, especially if full capacity seating becomes the norm again (and I still believe that many theatres will limit capacities to respond to their own audiences’ feedback).

The idea that you can have theatre staff doing all they can to keep theatres clean, safe ventilated and accessible – and then have to deal with an uncontrolled crowd which fails to respect others concerns (let’s not forget there will be many who are uneasy at returning to a half-full theatre, let alone a hot, sweaty, packed-to-the-rafters one) means that as a country we have a Government which has abandoned all common sense and all responsibility in attempting to care for its citizens.

My advice? Stay safe and go to the theatre if you want – but please remember, now more than ever, it’s important to protect yourself and your health, and in doing so you’ll protect other people too.

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