‘Until social distancing doesn’t exist anymore, we can’t even plan to reopen’

‘Until social distancing doesn’t exist anymore, we can’t even plan to reopen’


norman lebrecht

May 03, 2020

The theatre impresario Cameron Mackintosh gave the gloomiest prognosis to the singer Michael Ball on BBC Radio 2 today.

He went on to say: ‘I think from the moment social distancing doesn’t exist anymore, it will take us four to five months to actually get the actors back together. I think the truth it we won’t be able to come back until early next year.’

He added: ‘An audience going together spaced out would be a horrible experience. It’s the experience that makes it so unique.’

Listen here.



  • Peter San Diego says:

    Gloomy but realistic, alas.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m surprised that SD hasn’t reported that Cameron Macintosh has sacked, not furloughed, everybody in his company, from set designers and front of house, to musicians and make-up artists. This appalling news has been hidden. Many are struggling…

      • bored muso says:

        Thank you for exposing this.
        Please can we hear more of this multi millionaire sacking rather than furloughing his employees….

  • Brian v says:

    Sometimes social distancing does not work I once had a box for 4 people at the Albert
    Hall. The person in a box next to our box did not stop talking very loud we told them to
    Please keep the noise down they took no notice.in the end we called the manager
    They then stopped but while this was going on it spoiled our enjoyment of the music.

    • V.Lind says:

      I don’t understand the downvote on this. Does some troll who reads this blog think it is acceptable to behave in a box at the Albert Hall, during a concert, as if he were on the terraces at a Millwall game?

    • marcus mauger says:

      Being polite, as evidenced by your use of the word please, is where you went wrong-should have told them to STFU!

      • Brian v says:

        The manager told the person if they do not shut up he will be escorted out
        The hall. That solved the problem.

  • John Rook says:

    CM is right up to a point, but the way back will only be shown by a gradual increase in audience density; no-one will have the guts to attend a sell-out performance such is the antisocial brainwashing we’ve been subjected to these last few weeks. Listen to Giesecke, not Ferguson.

  • sam says:

    Social distancing is here to stay until there is a vaccine (remember, the record for fastest vaccine from lab to clinic was FOUR years, for the mumps vaccine) or herd immunity, i.e., 60-70% of the population immunized by infection (which means a lot of deaths to achieve that).

    The logistics of social distancing is IMPOSSIBLE:
    – patrons can only get into the hall in a line that separates people by 2 meters, the line itself will take hours to clear, in and out
    – no more than 1 person or 1 family in an elevator,
    – no hanging out in the lobby before, or during intermission, unless the lobby is so huge it can separate people by 2 meters
    -for restrooms, urinals and toilets only if 2 meters apart
    -no letting people who sit in the middle of the row in or out because they’d pass in front of seated patrons
    – and if the fire alarm accidentially goes off, forget about all the rules

    • Saxon Broken says:

      We might only need 30-50 percent of people to get the virus to have herd immunity. The flu epidemics of the 19th century seemed to achieve herd immunity once around 30-50 percent of people had caught it, and they were about as infectious as Covid-19.

      There is a good chance that 20 percent of people (or more) have already caught the virus in the worst hit regions. Some studies have suggested this is true, but we don’t yet know it is for sure (we need to test a large number of people for the antibodies to check). But if this is the case, then we should have herd immunity within a few months.

  • Bruno Michel says:

    Unfortunately, this is not the gloomiest prognosis, it could be much worse than “early next year”. Epidemiologists hesitate between a mix of 3 possible scenarios, with either one big peak in the autumn and winter, or from 3 to 6 moderate peaks for up to 2 years, or a chronic variant which goes on for up to 2 years. Forecasting is further complicated by whether we will have a vaccine, or whether acquired immunity is long lasting. We have to be ready to live with this for a long while. But for that very reason, I would not be as pessimistic as Mr Macintosh, who is obviously only happy with chuckablock halls. In the classical world, for better or for worse, we are used to not performing to capacity halls and have learned to accept it. I for one will be very happy to go to a hall without that rude person sitting left or in front of me, and do not need to be in a hall crammed with people to feel that it is a worthwhile experience. I actually love having space, and not having to deal with my neighbour’s brolly or coat or unusual shape or restlessness or child. (of course the picture is different from the point of view of a presenter, who needs the income from a full hall: but that is not going to happen any more anyway, regardless) As far as safety is concerned, I think that, if there are some rules in place, such as the obligation for every audience member and usher to wear a mask, and maybe gloves, and to keep social distancing, and if halls have the proper tools to screen temperature on entry (even if it is not 100% proof), i.e. if the presenters are in a position to offer full protection to audiences (for which they will have to get extra help from the government, as it costs money, which also means that the population will have to be guaranteed access to such means of protection for a long time) it might just be possible to start again with spaced-out audiences. It will be strange at first, and the cloakroom and bar at the interval will be tricky moments. But it might be possible.
    This article is a bit old, but it does give a very clear picture:

    • Stephen Diviani says:

      All a bit gloomy, I think. Or maybe I’m too much of a Pollyanna. There are a lot therapies being trialed which could alleviate symptoms early on and reduce hospital admissions and, so, significantly lower the mortality rate. (There’s a fascinating & upbeat article on this subject in the current edition of ‘The Spectator’ magazine by Matt Ridley.) In which case, should we all be so worried about contracting Covid-19, given that it’s not the Bubonic Plague or even the Spanish Influenza, and perhaps turns not to have had a mortality rate much above that for the more virulent flu strains which occasionally pay us humans a visit, as in the UK in the late 1990s/early 2000s.

      • Bruno Michel says:

        Indeed, the end goal is herd immunisation of the majority of the population. However, we should not downplay the impact thereof, as there is a high price to pay. No matter how it is reached, herd immunisation implies lots of deaths, as, regardless of treatments etc, there is a portion of the population (the very old, people with severe underlying conditions) who cannot be saved and will die. The example of Germany is telling: they were the only country in Europe which was ready for this, as they had all the health infrastructures and structures needed to treat any sick person; yet, they still have 7000 deaths (which is of course so much less than us), and it is obvious that the people who die in Germany are the ones who would have died regardless, as they were too weak to be saved. Therefore, even if the best-case scenario ends up happening here, and if we end up being “protected” by herd immunity, this will mean that many people will still have died in the process. Are we ready to pay this price? I for one am not ready to sacrifice the old and the sick so that I can go to the opera. Also, the question of the actual mortality rate is really tricky and we should refrain from making statements on this until the real figures are known, which will only be at the end of this, when epidemiological and demographical surveys will have been conducted scientifically. Currently, for instance, it is no longer true that coronavirus has the same mortality rate than the common flu, as was often first said: Public Health England states the average annual death toll to the common flu at 17000 on average over the years, and coronavirus has already killed twice that figure in 2 months officially (officiously, twice that, by all accounts). In Italy, the official ISS figures places deaths from influenza at 8000 yearly, which means that coronavirus kills staggeringly more. It is way too soon to establish the all-too-frequently used comparison between the mortality rates of influenza and coronavirus.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          If I told you herd immunity only requires 70,000 deaths in Britain, would you accept this to end the lockdown? After all, we are going to have something like 50,000 deaths by the end of the summer in Britain even if we maintain the lockdown.

          Aside: it might take only 70,000 deaths (or fewer). Or it might require a higher number. We need to know how many people have already caught the virus to be sure.

          • Amos says:

            Will you or a loved one be among those sacrificed to test your theory? Stick to your day job promoting Social Darwinism. Your science is crap and your social science is more akin to National Socialism.

    • engineers_unite says:

      And you quoting from the utter bollocks newspaper the GUARDIAN is supposed to validate this totally vacuous hypothesis.
      Immunity is already widespread to this virus, as it was already widespread in EUROPE last christmas.

      Up to 80% of infections are assymptomatic.
      It’s more than likely thanks to the total absence of testing for antibodies (and even those inaccurate PCR tests) that at least 20% of the population already has permanent immunity, because they have already been infected with the Chi-com virus and didn’t know it.

      • Symphony musician says:

        You have burst into the Slipped Disc comments like a bull in a china shop. I don’t appreciate your extremely heavy-handed way of making a point, and I wish you would calm down and attempt to engage in a more grown-up manner.
        Or, listen and absorb for a while, without feeling the need to share your knee-jerk reactions. Then, give us a respectful, considered response if you still feel moved to do so.

        • engineers_unite says:

          “engage in a more grown-up manner.”

          NO clearly you are either 1/ retired, 2/don’t need to work 3/ don’t care…

          For those of us thrown suddenly & violently out of work, totally unneccessarily, we are absolutely furious to find out this was just a gigantic scam – pushed along by the mass media, and swallowed by all the sheeple.

          ……which does exactly that,- NOT TREAT ADULTS AS ANYTHING ELSE BUT CHILDREN, while pretending to act in our best adult interests.

          You seem to like that, then dare to preach at me.

          I don’t like it and I don’t go around pretending otherwise.

          If I could get hold of that hypocrite pants down, Ferguson who bears the responsability of putting up to 3 000 000 out of work in the UK for good, saying “do as I say, not do as I do” ….
          He would get not just a knee jerk, I would personally LYNCH him.

  • When discussing social distancing issues in the creative industries (it is not just theatres) please include the concert, recital halls and opera houses. These too will most likely be amongst the last to have lockdown and social distancing rules relaxed. Just imagine trying to adapt any hall seating to comply with the 2 metres rule, never mind the potential huge loss of income to achieve it. Pre-concert checks on arrival, extra stewarding to ensure people go to their designated seats, loo social distancing supervision, proper handwash available, restaurant/cafe supervision…and so it goes on. We won’t be out of this until a vaccine is not only available but that it works too, and pronto after injection with no ghastly side-effects. A very tall order within the available timescale. Take all this into account and add in the huge frustration felt by the artists who bring such pleasure year in, year out not only to national audiences and but on the international stage as well. Out of necessity we shall have to be very patient.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      It is very likely we will have herd immunity in the worst hit regions long before we have a vaccine. In the worst hit regions there is a good chance that 20 percent of people or more have already had the virus. (We need to test large numbers of people for antibodies to be sure).