March 20: Headlines and worries of an anniversary week

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This week, of course, saw the first year anniversary of the complete shutdown of the West End, a lockdown we are still effectively in, even though there have been a couple of (subsequently stalled) attempts to re-open to socially distanced audiences.

And I’ve been there, done that and I’ve got the tee-shirt. And the fleece. And the face mask. For The Show Must Go On and for Freelancers Make Theatre Work. (When I wore my mask for the latter, shown above, to my first vaccination appointment at Guy’s Hospital, the greeter there beamed — from behind her plastic visor shield — and said she knew which sector I worked in).

I’ve bought the special edition book produced by Nina Dunn’s wonderful Dark Theatres Project (pictured above) as well as a photographic print of one of the images from it of the Savoy Theatre for framing.

I’ve also bought a glorious celebratory montage of productions from New Adventures, signed by founder Matthew Bourne (pictured above left), and Digi Creative’s Dear Audience book of photographic plates of West End performers, producers, front of house staff, directors and even Paul Branch, who produces my weekly #ShentTens podcast, with his Sunday ShowTunes co-presenter Maureen Rejali! (pictured above right)

In the absence of actually being able to go to the theatre, I’ve maintained a modest expenditure on theatrical memorabilia to continue to support the industry as much as I can.

I’ve received a warm glow from being able to support these initiatives; but I’ve also got a memorial to a year we’ll never forget.

It was a month ago that Boris Johnson announced, as I wrote here, an (allegedly irreversible) route out of lockdown, with Step 3 allowing the potential return of theatre performances, with social distancing still in place, from May 17, followed by the implementation of Step 4, which would allow full, non-socially distanced auditoria, once again, from June 21.

Though these dates are only subject to final confirmation a week before such changes will be allowed, theatre producers have pressed ahead, announcing dates for shows to return and new ones to open.

And as the vaccine roll-out has proceeded apace, it felt that this might actually be achievable. But this was before a week in which Europe entered what is being described as a 3rd wave, and most of Italy went into another full lockdown from March 15, as did Paris and 15 other regions in France yesterday.

On Thursday, according to a Guardian report, “there were more Covid patients in intensive care in Paris than at the peak of the second wave.” It also reported, that prime minister Jean Castex said that France “was in the grip of a third wave, with the virulent variant first detected in Britain now accounting for about 75% of cases.”

Yet France is still not on the red list of countries from which arriving travellers will be compelled to quarantine in hotels for 10 days on arrival in Britain.

So how long will it be before we see a similar surge in cases in London and the UK?

When I posted this fear on Twitter on Wednesday, I was met with an accusation of being doom laden.

On the contrary — I actually booked (and paid for) tickets for four shows whose revised re-opening schedules were announced a week ago yesterday (and that’s without the countless bookings I already hold for other shows). So I really want theatres to re-open; but I don’t live in a fantasy world, either. As the news changes, I refuse to bury my head in the sand and expect everything to simply be fine.

And yesterday, from the US, came this news:

Again, I can’t wait for New York to re-open; but I know I must. This is the longest period in my entire adult life, since I first visited Manhattan in 1983 and fell head over heels in love with the city, that I’ve not been there for over a year. And I’m no longer a tourist there, but a homeowner: I have a tiny flat in Hell’s Kitchen, two blocks away from Wicked! So I can actually say I’m properly homesick.

But right now my priority is to stay safe — and keep others safe, too. Yes, I’ve had my first dose of Pfizer (with the second to follow on May 8); but I could still unwittingly transmit the virus, if I have it, to someone who is not yet similarly protected.

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