Dame Judi Dench: Theatres won’t reopen in my lifetime

Dame Judi Dench: Theatres won’t reopen in my lifetime


norman lebrecht

June 25, 2020

The actor, 85, told Channel 4 News: ‘Will they ever reopen again? I don’t know, certainly not in my lifetime.’

She added: ‘I think that what is so strange is that we imagine that this is a temporary thing – this is happening just now and when the pandemic passes it’s all going to go back to normal.

‘It will, maybe, for some people – it certainly won’t for all of us in the theatre…. I do think that … if the theatres now close, become dark, I don’t know when we’re going to get them back. You can’t run a theatre, for instance, with people sitting six seats apart. You can’t run a theatre if it’s a quarter full, no.

‘It doesn’t just affect the public, it affects all of us – not just actors, but the crew and the people who make wigs, the people who dress us, the stage doormen, the lighting – every single person, the people in the box office – everyone’s affected by it, and none of us have any security or knowledge to know when it will come back.’



  • David K. Nelson says:

    I wish her a long life … and I greatly fear she has hit the nail on the head. This will not be like cowering in your basement until the tornado passes over and the “all clear” is sounded, you tidy up or deal with the damage, and things return to how they were.

  • buxtehude says:

    She sees and says what’s before her.

  • David says:

    Well, that’s a bit of a downer. I just hope that she’s wrong.

    • John Borstlap says:

      She probably is.

      Recent research has shown that infection happens mainly through micro droplets which remain floating in the air of unventilated closed spaces. If theatres are furnished with corona proof ventilation systems, simple mouth masks for the audience will be sufficient and halls can be full again. But it takes time for this knowledge to get through all the systems. There are a couple of months to prepare for the new season.

      • Craig says:

        What’s a mouth mask? Assuming there is some indication respiration through your nose does not carry COVID-19? I see noses out about 40% of the time. So I’m assuming “mouth masks” are an actual thing now?

        • John Borstlap says:

          It is supposed to also cover the nose. Maybe there should be developed a new Oxford English word: anti-corona-nose-mouth-mask.

        • Escamillo says:

          For Regietheater, I suggest eye masks too. It’s called the full facial – could become the rage.

        • Maria says:

          Probably an American think. We tend to call them just masks, or face masks or face coverings. Whatever you call out, no facial expressions can be seen – grim for any performers to see and a grim experience for any audience too.

      • Just saying says:

        To date (afaik), there is no such thing as a “corona-proof” ventilation system. Even if there were, it’s overall exchange and filtration of a large volume of air. Droplets from the guy sneezing two seats down won’t be “purified” before they reach you (especially if he’s only wearing a “mouth mask”).

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Meanwhile, have you checked out the number of people who’ve headed to the beach in the UK in the last days? They’ll all be OK, unless they’re over 70. But that’s a good enough reason to destroy international capitalism. Some folks will love that idea; the people with the cash to withstand austerity at olympic games level, that is.

      • Primo Clarinet says:

        And how will actors on stage and woodwind and brass players in the pit cope with wearing “mouth masks” ?

    • Maria says:

      That’s the trouble. Some people just don’t face up reality and summed up eloquently by Dame Judi. She is a fighter who has spent her life in the theatre, particularly in Britain, at the top level but also a realist. Sadly she has got it right and the sooner it sinks in, the more people will cope and make creative choices for alternative careers in life. Well paid work was short enough without any pandemic unless you were a star in straight theatre, musicals and opera. The rest will struggle to survive. The film industry too. It’s just not a great future for theatre in general.

  • Gustavo says:

    No time to die

  • Debbie Downer says:

    Does she not see that theaters have re-opened all over the world already where the virus has been beaten back? Did she not see the rugby match in New Zealand with 40,000 people in attendance? This kind of defeatist pessimism is exactly what we DON’T need. It’s been 4 months since this started and there already has been a treatment found that lowers deaths by 1/3rd.

    • Kelvin Grout says:

      Treatment that lowers deaths by a third? I would be interested to fact check that one.

        • John Kelly says:

          To that add Remdesivir and several other treatments which may end up being used in combination which could lower death rates more. I don’t like to bet against the scientific community especially when the whole world is working on this (over 100 vaccine candidates let alone treatments being tested). No time for complacency but not time for Dr Doom either.

        • Stephen says:

          …that cuts death by a third in a small minority of the most seriously ill patients.

          Covid19 is still a vicious disease and the majority of sufferers who never make it to the stage where that drug will help will have a horrible time of it.

        • madmusenyc says:

          Death is the worst outcome for those with Covid, but as I just heard on the BBC and have read elsewhere, there is also a living death for many who contract the disease: long-term damage to lungs and other organs, which can leave victims severely debilitated for life.

    • Just saying says:

      In a preliminary report pending peer review, the authors state that that deaths were reduced by one-third in *high-risk patients* on mechanical ventilation. Not one-third of all patients.
      It’s not defeatist pessimism, but our simple reality at this time. Many people are working very hard to change that.
      The original pre-print article can be read here:

    • Christopher Clift says:

      But lest you had not noticed Debbie, the UK has been really slow in dealing with this pandemic, compared to the likes of New Zealand and other places where lockdown was in place remarkably quickly. Added to that, the population here seems incapable of adhering to a few simple guidelines for the common good, making the reduction of cases much less likely to happen – demonstrations, raves, illegal street parties, people NOT social distancing – need I go on? Then the government, in a bid to placate ‘big business’ allow certain sectors to relax the rules, re-open, but not theatres and concert halls, all of whom generate billions more for the nation’s tax coffers than football, for example.

    • psq says:

      “…theaters have re-opened all over the world…”

      Absolutely rot! Do us a favour and list the countries “all over the world” where theatres have reopened with zero restriction indoor.

      One country I am sure of, that no theatre has reopened with zero restriction on the number of audience and no social distancing inside, and that is Germany. So take Germany out of your “all over the world” assertion.

      If you have followed at all what have been mentioned in SD re opera performances in Italy, they all have audience restrictions in numbers as well as social distancing.

      So take Italy out of your “all over the world” list.

      :…rugby match in New Zealand…”

      New Zealand is just one country, not “all over the world”! I happen to follow the the Australian and New Zealand sport events. Their reopenings were entirely driven by money.

      In Germany, professional soccer matches are played in empty stadiums, ditto the matches in UK.

      So take UK out of your “all over the world” list.

      Have you not heard that the tennis tournament organized by
      Novak Djokovic last week was cancelled because of a number of players and coaches were tested positive? There was zero social restriction among spectators and players. Djokovic’s pregnant wife was tested positive. Is that something anyone would wish on a pregnant woman and her unborn child? Spectators were partying, no social distancing of course. Players were hugging on the courts. Players were hugging with spectators for selfies. If one looks at the photos/videos, one would not know there has been a pandemic going on and still is going on.


      So take Serbia out of your “all over the world” list.

      The Sydney Opera House has not reopened, so that’s another country not among your “all over the world” list

      The “treatment” found by the Oxford team has shown positive effects ONLY for some covid-19 patients that were very seriously ill when the body’s own immune system in response to the virus goes into an overdrive known as cytokine storm. The immune system literally attacks the hosts’ own bodies.The reason behind the partial positive response is that the drug used was an immunity suppressing cortisone. It dampens the body’s own over reactive immune response. It is not a drug that fights against the virus.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      New Zealand is not the UK; population 5 million.

      “Defeatist pessimism”? With the media around the world blaming governments for Covid-19?

      And good luck with the further ‘treatments’ – arguably the most ‘expense’ in the history of the world. And, as it will shortly transpire, one nobody could afford.

    • psq says:

      “”In 11 of these countries, accelerated transmission has led to very significant resurgence that if left unchecked will push health systems to the brink once again.”

      from your favourite news source,


      “…virus has been beaten back…”

      Another cavalier assertion that has no health workers’ support.

      Opening up everything as if nothing has happened fits nicely into the warning above

      “… very significant resurgence that if left unchecked ….”

      • Debbie Downer says:

        Nowhere would I suggest that this re-opening should be done now, or until there is a vaccine. That is simply not what I was suggesting.

        I take the point about reducing deaths by 1/3rd only in severe cases, but I still hold that this a significant breakthrough.

        My point was that she said she wouldn’t see theaters reopen during her lifetime. That is an absurdity considering she could live another 10 years! Will things be extremely hard? Will some theaters go out of business? Yes, but there will be a solution found to this virus.

        To make one final thing perfectly clear, I am NOT an advocate for early re-opening!!

    • Well said. It is extraordinary to me how many people enjoy being negative and afraid. It’s like they want theatres never to open.

  • Don Fatale says:

    Just to make it harder in London the congestion charge in the evening and weekends will hit theatre staff and visitors with increased costs.

    • V.Lind says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the congestion charge goes through the roof. Londoners must have been enjoying having clean air, less noise and light traffic.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Dear Dame Judi,
    Please don’t say such a thing! I adore you and I want you to life a long, happy, healthy life.
    Now, take it back!

  • John Burrows says:

    This is a simple example of the elderly wanting to believe the party couldn’t possibly go on without them. We will one day again fill the great symphony halls, opera houses, concert venues, and sporting arenas. It may take longer than any of us wish but it will happen.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    The climate catastrophists must love all this; reduced emissions and the promise of a return to the caves!!

    • John Borstlap says:

      The caves had bad ventilation and no anti burglar device, lighting was awkward and irritating noises from dinosaurs devouring each other a constant stress factor. But reports from those times confirm indeed that the air outside the caves was very clean and that one could enjoy cheap meals, which only required a couple of hours hunting in the oxigin-rich woods. Alas, one died at 30 but the time was well-spent.

  • Escamillo says:

    Arrive at the theatre an hour early, undergo tests/interviews, receive clearance, and take your seat. Not unlike checking in for a flight.

    • Mike Gibb says:

      That would work if asymptomatic people weren’t responsible for significant percentages of the virus transmission.

      What could be the minimum delay in the return of a swab or antivirus DNA test? I don’t know, but suspect that we are some time off being able to do this.

  • Karl says:

    Dr. Fauci just said a vaccine is not a matter of if, but when. He’s also cautiously optimistic that it will be ready by the end of 2020 or early 2021.

    • Stephen Diviani says:

      Yes, he said much the same in an interview in the Sunday Times, where he also said that ‘the vast majority of people recover’ from Covid-19, which was why he was so confident about an effective vaccine.

  • Gregory says:

    She refers to true theater. Not the Disney backed musical garbage for tourists and those out of town visitors with their kinds none of us know what to do with after a couple of days of sight seeing. The economics don’t add up for artistic productions in a wold of global epidemic. Actor cannot wear face masks and be six foot apart.

  • watcher111 says:

    She’ll have more time left to visit her dear friend Harvey Weinstein, then.

  • Stephen Diviani says:

    C4 News must have caught Dame Judy on a bad hair day……………….