Friday diary: More on COVID (un)safety in theatres, and the kindness of strangers

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A week ago this morning I returned from Barbados, and as much as it was confusing to comply with the testing regimes before going there, while there ahead of our return, it felt very, very safe that the authorities there insisted on them, both on landing (and then requiring quarantining until the results came back) — and that the airline, too, insisted on masks being worn. The fact that everyone aboard the plane had been tested ahead of the flight provided a massive element of reassurance that the virus wasn’t being brought onto the plane — but even it was, that masks would protect us (plus the air circulation on planes entirely replaces the air in the cabin every 3-4 minutes, so it’s essentially a safe environment).

Compare and contrast that with the situation in theatres: I recently wrote to every major theatre chain in London to ask to see their COVID safety risk assessments and ventilation plans. Two operators did not acknowledge or reply to the emails. Of the three that did, I was either given or directed to generic statements on their websites with assurances that steps had been taken. LW Theatres, for instance, offers this blanket risk assessment applicable to all their venues:

On ventilation, they merely offer this:

A Local Ventilation Plan is in place for each venue which details the specific ventilation arrangements for each area of that venue. Ventilation systems are set to 100% fresh air. No air is recycled. CO2 monitors have been installed in all venues.

The audience guide on their website asks theatregoers to confirm their COVID-19 Status:

For the comfort and reassurance of all our guests we kindly request that all audience members over the age of 11 years take a COVID lateral flow test within 48 hours of their visit to the theatre. Alternatively, please be prepared to show your Domestic COVID-PASS from the NHS App or website (or national and international equivalents) which demonstrates double vaccination plus 14 days or natural immunity. Please bring your negative test result or COVID-PASS to the theatre with you as we may ask to see it on arrival.

I visited an LW Theatre last week, and was not asked for this; but a couple of nights earlier had been asked to provide it at an ATG venue. My guest couldn’t open his on his mobile phone, and was merely sent to have his temperature taken instead.

As I wrote in my daily newsletter column yesterday (available online here), a New York Times critic Laura Collins-Hughes recently visited London — and found the COVID safety provisions hardly reassuring, not least of all when she herself tested positive for the virus after a few days here.

As I quoted her reporting of her visit to the Old Vic,

“At that and nearly every production I saw, there were loads — sometimes a majority — of barefaced people in the crowd, which felt reckless and delusional, as if the pandemic were a thing of the past. (I’d have thought an audience could at least unite in the cause of trying not to kill Ian McKellen with Covid, but apparently not.) If I hadn’t just had the virus, it would have freaked me out completely. New York theaters, vastly more rigorous about masks and vaccinations, feel much safer….. I love London, love seeing theater here. I just wonder when it will feel OK to come back.”

Interestingly, the piece was characterised by The Stage’s editor Alistair Smith in an editorial as sitting “within a slightly strange tradition of NYT features knocking London”, though he also conceded: “But it’s also not entirely wrong. Covid safety measures are being enforced inconsistently across the West End.”

As Laura replied in a tweet,

SOLT, UK Theatre and Equity UK are failing comprehensively in failing to institute any kind of industry-wide policies to mitigate the ongoing effects of the disease.

In better news…..
Twitter is full of bad stuff. But occasionally there’s inspiring stuff that lifts the spirits. One such was this tweet from theatre director Thom Southerland, to which I duly replied:

Many of us are dealing with our own challenges. I’ve been public about some of mine over the last two years, from depression to my ongoing spinal issues. This week I was in London on Wednesday, and on my way back to my hotel after seeing Frozen when I had another of my recently regular falls in the street. (I have a drop foot that trips me up without warning; as it happens, I’d already booked in to see a physio today, which is why today’s newsletter is late).

I posted this at the end of my thread on Frozen:

In a world of constant negativity, it is paradoxical how negative experiences can sometimes be a source of the most positivity.

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