United Kingdom

Andrew Lloyd Webber backs down on threat to reopen his theatres without social distancing

Andrew Lloyd Webber has backed down over his threat to reopen his theatres without social distancing in place after he was warned his entire staff and audience members could have been fined hundreds of pounds each. 

Webber said he would have been willing to face arrest by going ahead at full capacity when Cinderella premieres at London's Gillian Lynne Theatre on June 25.

But he added that after seeking legal advice he had decided he could not risk the cast, crew and audience members being fined individually. It will now go ahead at 50 per cent capacity.

In a swipe at the government, the composer also rejected Boris Johnson's offer for his musical Cinderella to be included in a pilot scheme for live events, which would have allowed it to be shown at full capacity earlier.

Following talks between the pair, Webber said it would be unfair for his show to be singled out for special treatment by Downing Street.  

Andrew Lloyd Webber has backed down over his threat to reopen his theatres without social distancing in place after he was warned his entire staff and audience members could have been fined hundreds of pounds each. Pictured: Andrew Lloyd Webber with cast of Cinderella 

The impresario said he 'cannot and will not take part' and blasted the Government over its treatment of theatre and music as 'an afterthought and undervalued'.

Lord Lloyd-Webber, 72, said in a statement: 'After a long week of government delay and confusion, I confirm that I cannot and will not take part in yet another pilot scheme around the reopening of theatres, as suggested by the Prime Minister on Monday.

'I have made it crystal clear that I would only be able to participate if others were involved and the rest of the industry – theatre and music – were treated equally. This has not been confirmed to me.' 

Cinderella, Webber's new musical, will begin previews on June 25 'at the Government's arbitrary 50 per cent capacity,' Webber said. Ticket holders for shows before this date will get refunds or a new date to see the show. 

Webber said that the production would be 'economically unviable', but said that he would 'personally bear the losses' incurred by putting on the production. 

The Prime Minister wants to allow 'some theatrical performances' to go ahead at full capacity before the lifting of remaining restrictions on July 19.

Lord Lloyd-Webber said he would have been willing to face arrest by going ahead at full capacity when Cinderella premieres at London's Gillian Lynne Theatre on June 25

Up to 20 live event pilots will take place in the four weeks leading up to the deadline, including the Wimbledon singles finals and four Euro 2020 games. 

But the composer said in a statement posted on Twitter: 'It has become clear that, while sporting events like Wimbledon had obviously been working with the Government for some time on this pilot, and were even able to start selling tickets yesterday, the theatre industry and its audiences is, once again, an afterthought and undervalued.'

He continued: 'Having taken legal opinion from senior counsel, if we had gone ahead at 100 per cent it would be very likely that every member of my cast, crew and orchestra, the front and backstage staff, plus our loyal audience members, could be individually fined hundreds of pounds, which I couldn't possibly risk.

'If it were just me, I would happily risk arrest and fines to make a stand and lead the live music and theatre industry back to the full capacities we so desperately need.'

In a swipe at the government, the composer (left) also rejected Boris Johnson's (right) offer for his musical Cinderella to be included in a pilot scheme for live events, which would have allowed it to be shown at full capacity

According to The Daily Telegraph, a government source said: 'We've given him the opportunity to operate at 100 per cent capacity through the Government's pilot programme, which is exactly what he wanted. It's completely baffling that he's pulled out of this. We have no idea why he's done it.' 

The Download Festival is among the events taking part in the pilot – and fans braved the rain yesterday as they turned up for the three-day heavy metal festival at Donington Park in Leicestershire. 

The capacity has been cut from 111,000 to around 10,000, but attendees do not have to wear masks or social distance.

On Friday, the Department of Health reported 10,476 new infections in the previous 24 hours, up by a third on last Friday. 

But the same data shows the speed at which infections are increasing every week has slowed, despite the spread of the highly infectious Indian variant.

Meanwhile, SAGE said the R rate was flat after rising for five weeks in a row following the easing of restrictions, with SAGE saying it still stood between 1.2 and 1.4. 

The figure – which measures how quickly the virus is spreading – is usually a couple of weeks out of date and less reliable when case numbers are low, as they are now.

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