Portsmouth area theatre bosses speak out after government change means they can open their doors but live performances are banned

THEATRE bosses across the area have branded the government’s new rules as ‘nonsensical’ and ‘ludicrous’ – as people across the industry warn that it is in mortal danger.

By Millie Salkeld
Monday, 29th June 2020, 12:04 pm
Updated Monday, 29th June 2020, 12:05 pm
Pictured: Pictures of Chief Executive Paul Woolf at the Kings Theatre, Portsmouth.

© Roger Arbon/Solent News & Photo Agency
Pictured: Pictures of Chief Executive Paul Woolf at the Kings Theatre, Portsmouth. © Roger Arbon/Solent News & Photo Agency

On Tuesday the government announced that venues can open but no live performances will be allowed. The announcement from Boris Johnson came as part of a host of lockdown changes including pubs, restaurants and hairdressers being able to reopen from July 4.

But with no live shows allowed and social distancing measures still in place, many theatres say their doors will remain closed – and those that are open are severely hampered.

Kings Theatre chief executive Paul Woolf called the rules ‘nonsensical’.

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He said: ‘There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the rules. Cinemas are allowed to open but theatres can’t, it is nonsensical. If we have the right measures in place then I really don’t see the difference.

‘I think the government have entirely forgotten about regional theatre and the importance of it.’

Plans are being looked at to put on films at the theatre in Southsea while live performances are prohibited.

Artistic director at Titchfield Festival Theatre, Kevin Fraser, described the rules as ‘extremely disappointing’.

The theatre installed an ozone sanitiser – costing more than £10,000 – to limit the spread of germs as well as installing a thermal camera, a one-way system, and buying PPE equipment for staff.

He told The News: ‘It’s ludicrous. We were really hopeful we could reopen to live audiences. The fact of the matter is the advice is constantly changing - it changes at the drop of a hat.

‘The last advice was that theatres would be opening on July 4.

‘So we put in place a series of measures so we could open safely, we bought the sanitiser which works across the whole theatre space.

‘We can’t put in any more – we are probably safer than a hospital.’

Many theatres, including New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth, are remaining closed.

Operations director Sheena Hulme said: ‘Our business is live shows and so until we can do that safely then we can’t open.

‘It isn’t just the audience who have to social distance and be safe but also the actors and someone said to me how would you do Romeo and Juliet with a two metre distance.

‘I think also a lot of theatres also don’t have the space for people to be that far apart when you think about packed foyers and the long queue for the toilets when you go to a show.’

The Mayflower Theatre in Southampton has said it will be closed until December 10.

Southampton Test MP Alan Whitehead was among five MPs who sent Caroline Dinenage, minister for digital and culture and Gosport MP, a letter asking for more support for five theatres, including the Mayflower, which can’t reopen and be financially viable with social distancing measures in place.

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