Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The next stage: UK theatres adapting to social distancing




The next stage: UK theatres adapting to social distancing

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
London’s West End is famous for its theatre district and draws fans from around the world, but producers are now trying to figure out how to allow the shows to go on. AFP

The next stage: UK theatres adapting to social distancing

London's West End has traditionally drawn people from all over the world to see its shows but theatres have been forced to reinvent themselves because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Fifteen million tickets are sold each year for performances including top attractions such as The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, a play that has been performed since 1952.

But the pandemic brought the curtain down on venues in March, leaving theatres facing an uncertain future where continued social distancing measures threaten their existence.

Louis Hartshorn and Brian Hook, co-founders of Hartshorn-Hook Productions, are among the first to adapt to the new reality, announcing the reopening of an immersive adaptation of The Great Gatsby to open in October.

Hook said: “The show will be re-imagined as a masquerade ball.”

Spectators are invited to wear masks, which they can integrate into their disguise, and gloves if they wish.

The audience will also be reduced to 90, down from 240 previously, and the schedule has been changed to allow for thorough clean-ups.

Hook said the good news is that tickets are “selling and people want to come back”.

But Hartshorn admitted that “we have to do extremely well in order to break even because the numbers are against us”.

Tourist trouble

Another immediate challenge is the lack of tourists, with hotels, restaurants and museums closed until at least early next month.

The introduction on June 8 of a 14-day quarantine for most travellers arriving in the country has also tempered hopes of a swift recovery.

Julian Bird, head of the UK Theatre lobby group, told a recent parliamentary committee: “Around a third of attendees in London theatres are overseas tourists . . . and for the moment of course there is very little prospect of having overseas visitors.”

Up to 70 per cent of theatres could go bankrupt by the end of the year, he warned.

Immersive experiences

The current crisis has left a £3 billion ($3.8 billion) hole in theatre revenues this year, a fall of more than 60 per cent, said a study by Oxford Economics for the Creative Industries Federation.

This estimate does not take into account the possible reluctance of the public to return when allowed, with the federation warning of 200,000 job cuts without government intervention.

To survive, some theatres are offering alternative products.

At London’s Old Vic Theatre, actors Claire Foy and Matt Smith, stars of the hit TV series The Crown, will perform the play Lungs without an audience, while keeping their distance.

Each performance will be filmed and broadcast live to the 1,000 people who purchased tickets at the usual prices of between £10 and £65, although all will enjoy the same view.

It’s a bold gamble when many other theatres, such as the National Theatre in London, have posted free online performances of plays filmed before the pandemic.

Hook said shows that involve audience participation could be the big winners.

“We were already on a boom for immersive theatre before this crisis . . . I think now might be a very positive time for that,” he said.

One Night Records will launch one such project early in October, taking ticket-holders on a journey through musical genres from the 1920s to the 1950s in a secret location called Lockdown Town.

Its general manager Tim Wilson said: “Because the venue is so large it has this special gift – which is territory, you know, space. That’s why we’re able to do it.”

But he, too, has had to adapt, selling tickets in groups of four and transforming the free stroll into a linear route.

Performance anxiety

In the traditional world of theatre, social distancing measures are a real headache.

With people having to remain 2m apart, under current rules, the Royal Shakespeare Company said it can only accommodate 20 per cent of its usual audience.

“With the furlough scheme changing in nature over the coming months and then coming to an end, that’s a moment of extreme vulnerability,” Catherine Mallyon, executive director of the Stratford-upon-Avon based company said.

“And how would we do the performances with social distancing? Romeo and Juliet 2m apart, it’s quite hard to imagine,” she said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Body of woman killed in Bangkok returns

    The Cambodian embassy in Thailand is working to repatriate the body of a casino dealer who was shot dead in Bangkok on Monday night. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesman Kuy Kuong told The Post on Wednesday that officials are preparing paperwork to

  • Chikungunya hits 15 provinces, says gov’t

    Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said on Thursday that the chikungunya outbreak in the Kingdom has spread to 15 provinces. Some 1,700 people are now suspected to have the disease. Vandine urged people to prevent its further spread by eliminating shelters for the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes

  • Gov’t exempts visa A and B holders from Covid fees

    Airline passengers who are diplomats and officials of international organisations holding Type A and B visas for travel to Cambodia are exempted from paying Covid-19 testing fees, said the Ministry of Health in its latest adjustment of rules on Wednesday. Health Minister Mam Bun Heng

  • Bill covering dress code draws ire

    Ministry of Interior secretary of state Ouk Kim Lek responded on Tuesday to criticism concerning a draft law that would ban women from wearing overly revealing clothing, saying that input from all parties will be considered as the law moves through the promulgation process. Several

  • Passing the test: Is Cambodia’s education system failing its people?

    The Kingdom’s education system needs to grow its people but some flaws might stifle​ this growth Coming from the Khmer Rouge occupation, with the loss of many scholars and academicians and a collapsed government, the education system had to be reconstructed from scratch – one

  • What’s the deal with Cambodia and China’s FTA?

    Cambodia’s Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China kicks off a series of FTAs in future but for now, critics wonder what else the parties could bring to the table apart from what it already has to date By the end of this year, Cambodia