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MASKING UP: THEATRES SUDDDENLY REQUIRE MASKING
I’ve been campaigning for months — ever since Boris Johnson’s so-called “Freedom Day” in July, when all social distancing restrictions were lifted, that theatres at least ensure the safety of their audiences by REQUIRING — not just REQUESTING — them to continue to wear masks. When theatres were finally able to open at full capacity, SOLT and UK Theatre CEO Julian Bird called it “a lifeline for the industry”; but I feared that, should people not continue to take care, it could instead be the industry’s death knell.
I wrote to Bird in September, saying this: “It was within Solt/Uk Theatre’s power to follow the Broadway League’s example and INSIST on mask wearing and vaccination certificates, but you and your members CHOSE not to — presumably afraid of a commercial impact. If/when theatres are forced to shut again, that will have an even more detrimental impact. But like Lloyd Webber, I assume your members will play the victim of over-regulation instead of accepting responsibility for their own failures in mitigating the risks.”
He did not reply, until I wrote to every board member of SOLT and UK Theatre, and then received this:
But with the sudden arrival of the Omicron variant of COVID — and the government’s re-implementation of compulsory wearing of face coverings on public transport and in shops this week — theatres have at last started adopting their own mandatory mask requirements. I reported here yesterday that The RSC led the way in Stratford-upon-Avon; yesterday, venues from London’s mighty National to Leicester’s Curve and Cirencester’s tiny Barn Theatre, and from the Royal Opera House to English National Opera at the London Coliseum quickly followed suit.
As I am spending over five hours tonight in the London Coliseum, seeing its new production of Wagner’s The Valkyrie, I am relieved that this is finally officially policy.
But as one American follower replied to me on Twitter,
Meanwhile, the confusing messages coming from our (so-called) government are not helping matters. Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency and former deputy chief medical officer for England, told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme,
“Of course our behaviours in winter – and particularly around Christmas – we tend to socialise more, so I think all of those will need to be taken into account. So I think being careful, not socialising when we don’t particularly need to and particularly going and getting those booster jabs.”
Boris Johnson, however, speaking as he visited a vaccination centre yesterday, insisted there was no further change in advice “about how people should be living their lives.” In a news report in The Guardian, a spokesperson for Number 10 was asked about this apparent contradiction in messaging that Harries “gives advice to the government, she is not the government”.
As the stand-first for The Guardian’s brilliant political sketchwriter John Crace’s column put it yesterday, “PM’s response to Omicron is to do the bare minimum his deranged backbenchers will tolerate.”
A similar philosophy seems to apply at SOLT/UK Theatre: a determination not to rock the boat with the rival producers and theatre owners that the organisations represent, who want as few restrictions as possible.
ON A LIGHTER NOTE…..
I was delighted last night to see the touring production of THE GOOD LIFE, a stage version of the mid-70s TV sitcom, on its final stop at Chichester Festival Theatre.
Chichester is probably the closest spiritual theatrical home for these characters outside of Guildford (a date the tour mysteriously did not play). And it’s an utter delight! A bit like a 70s play that Alan Ayckbourn could have written, it has a fine quartet of leading players — though they can’t quite match their TV originals (who could?), Rufus Hound and Sally Tatum are ideal as the title characters, seeking an alternative way of life. And Dominic Rowan — one of our most unsung but brilliant straight actors — and Preeya Kalidas are just hilarious as their uppity neighbours. What a retro joy!
TODAY’S THEATRE BIRTHDAYS
Theatre birthdays (DEC 1): Woody Allen, 86 (pictured: the 2014 Broadway musical version of his 1994 film); Stephen Lowe, playwright, 74;B Bette Midler, 76 (pic: as Dolly Levi in HELLO, DOLLY!, Broadway, 2017); Jeremy Northam, 60; Stephen Poliakoff, 69
SEE YOU TOMORROW
See you in your inbox tomorrow (if you subscribe), or here if you don’t. But if you can’t wait that long, you can find me on Twitter @ShentonStage (though not as often on weekends)