UK theatres ‘unlikely to reopen before January’

UK theatres ‘unlikely to reopen before January’


norman lebrecht

April 23, 2020

Rufus Norris, artistic director of the National Theatre in London, went on the BBC’s Today programme this morning to give voice for the first time to a growing consensus in the performing arts sector.

He said that, while the NT was ready and able to return to rehearsal in July for a September reopening, he could not personally imagine a situation where the authorities would consent to 1,000 people being crammed into a room for three hours at end.

His fallback position was to reopen in January 2021. And he added that there was a third line of strategy for postponing the reopening even beyond that. He added that the financial implications for the theatre were catastrophic.

His prognosis might sound gloomy, but it was totally honest and quite unlike the equivocations we have been hearing from the managers of concert halls and opera houses.

January is starting to look like a best-case scenario.


UPDATE: In a parallel interview with Variety, Norris said: ‘Every organization like ours is running numerous scenarios…The one thing that you just can’t afford to do at the moment is rest on optimism,” said Norris.


  • Ron Swanson says:

    I think there is little disingenuousness going on here. There is nothing to stop them opening with less than a capacity audience post lockdown . In this case 300 people in a space designed for 1000 should not be problem. The real answer is that the government’s furlough scheme pays them more money than opening with a smaller audience.

    • Player says:

      There is nothing to stop them opening with less than a capacity audience post lockdown? Really? Why do you only consider the audience? Do you think the performers are somehow expendable?

      Read a bit of The Decameron. This virus period has eerie similarities to previous times in history, when certain powerful elements of society pushed the “servants” into harm’s way. I do not accept that the rich guy’s lifestyle has to be maintained, no matter the cost.

      • Ron Swanson says:

        The RFU plans to be playing rugby in July. Is your position that there is more contact between actors than rugby players? On person every 3 seats is more than current spacing on the tube at rush hour.

        • Elizabeth Owen says:

          Rugby is usually played in the open air!

          Perhaps you have never been to the National Theatre. You have to travel one way or another to get there, then FOH you buy a book or food or a programme from staff who can’t stand metres away from you then you walk down a narrow corridor to get in to the actual auditorium. Duh!

          • V.Lind says:

            And nobody is forcing the RFU to play in July — and someone may yet prevent them. Sports organisations are all getting very antsy.

            The National Theatre is using its brains — and is also providing very fine substitute offerings online.

    • John says:

      How on earth could any company cover their costs with only a third of their regular audience?

      • Ron Swanson says:

        Thank you for proving my point that it isn’t about health but money. The would rather the tax payer cover all their costs than take some of the loss themselves.

        • Anonymous says:

          I would think the losses would be even greater if they incurred the cost of a production in order to play to 30 percent of capacity. They are not being selfish by remaining closed; they are minimizing the losses that would potentially be passed on to the public.

        • carl says:

          I can only assume you have no idea how business works.if you take in less than you pay out you go bankrupt. The government said close they should pay I assume you would expect them to pay you if they told you to stop work. Or are you happy to pay all your own bills until money runs out and you have to sell up, oh and have no job to go back to after. Think about it.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      The governments furlough scheme will not keep paying until January. Even the government will run out of money.

    • Rufus says:

      Ridiculous comment, selling 300 tickets to a show would not even break even. You obviously do not have any business skills

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Anyone who fully understands the situation we are in at the moment would know that life will not be normal again for a long time yet. This is a catastrophe for all art companies, no matter how established they are. At the end we have to reinvent our culture, which would have been fine in a high brow age, but depressing in our times. The only consolation is that no matter how barbaric we may become culturally, there will still be good food and wine, along with much love making I am sure.

    • SVM says:

      In the short term, it is indeed a catastrophe. But if we reach a stage where gatherings are allowed up to a limit somewhere in the hundreds, there is a glimmer of hope for the overlooked majority of promoters, performers, and venues whose audiences do not exceed that limit. Another ‘silver lining’ may be a reduction in venue hire charges, which have become extortionate and unsustainable in London. In the long term, I hold hope that one consequence of the current pandemic will be a redistribution of audiences away from a small quantity of blockbuster events in massive halls towards a larger quantity of innovative events in smaller spaces.

      • Skippy says:

        I’m sorry to say that’s probably not going to happen, either. Gatherings of hundreds—or dozens—can have deadly consequences, as well.

        It may be time to face reality: Until there’s a vaccine, live performing arts, as we’ve known them, are dead.

        • engineers_unite says:

          This is total utter nonsense.

          As a good proportion of the population has already been exposed to the virus without any symptoms, (something like 80X more than the actual figures) by the time the end of summer comes around there will be a lot of immunity building up in the general population which will remain for the foreseeable future.

          Sweden has followed this route, very sensibly it must be said. The last thing you want to do is confine the entire population and prevent them contacting others. It means immunity goes DOWN.

          In the near future it’s likely Scandinavia will be a perfect place for large events, while the rest of Europe gets fed more propaganda by the mass media, and carries on shivering in fear!

          The vast majority of this pandemic has been invented by the mass media.

          More people died in 2018 from ordinary FLU, than anything the WUFLU could invent, because mortality in COVID is actually LOWER than Flu, especially the incredible 1918-1919 epidemic which killed more than the entire first world war.

          Stop pandering to the mass panic BBC, which is destroying our entire economy, and get a life!

          • Saxon Broken says:

            Covid-19 is a bit more dangerous than the flu, but not much. Most people have very mild symptoms.

            At the moment it is likely that perhaps 20 percent of people have already been infected in Britain (and in large parts of Europe). The problem is that we really don’t know since no good antibody test exists, and the rate of testing is so low.

            Nevertheless, by September it is likely that around half the population will have had the virus, and life can start returning to normal. (Note: a vaccine will only reproduce the immunity that derives from having the actual virus; so having the virus makes the vaccine doesn’t confer any benefits).

  • Swan Ronson says:

    I’m sorry to put it like this (lockdown probably getting to me), but does anyone else think Ron Swanson sounds like a bit of a dick?


    I can’t believe there are still idiots here who think Covid is just like the flu and that somehow the economy takes precedence over people’s lives.

    To thrive, the live arts are dependent on the free assembly of people (especially the elderly & retired), international tourism and the hospitality industry. All of whom remain grounded.

    Until the risk of transmission is entirely suppressed or a vaccine is in place, the live arts are out of the question