Limited reopening will only get the arts ‘so far’, warn theatre and museum bosses

·2-min read

The “beating heart of the West End” won’t return until shows can play at full capacity, according to the group representing the capital’s theatres.

Julian Bird, chief executive of The Society of London Theatre, said the reopening after months of lockdown was “great” but “only gets us so far”.

Shows opening tonight, including The Mousetrap, are playing to limited numbers, with theatregoers wearing masks throughout.

He said: “To bring the beating heart of the West End back, we can’t do that until we get back to full capacity.”

He said Solt’s members wanted to hear “social distancing is being removed”.

At the moment the Government hopes to do that no earlier than June 21 and Bird said: “That would allow those shows that are opening today to get to a point of breaking even and starting to recoup some of the losses.”

Natural History Museum director Doug Gurr said the “most important thing” is getting visitor numbers back.

His museum lost five millions visitors last year with 300,000 people coming through the doors in 2020 compared to 5.3 million the year before.

Natural History Museum
Natural History Museum

The museum opens today with a new exhibition, Our Broken Planet, opening on Friday. It has put a daily cap on visitors of 5,000 but hopes that will rise as the end of social distancing is hopefully declared in June.

Gurr said he thought the impetus provided by lockdown to museums to go online offered a way forward to recover some of the losses from last year and that pre-booking visits would stay in place after the end of social distancing.

He said it allowed them to identify visitors and stay in touch with them after their visit and that visitor donations had increased “significantly” since people have been able to give online rather than in person.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden welcomed the first visitors back to the National Gallery and said it was clear from the queues how much Londoners had missed the arts.

He said he recognised “the anxiety” people felt about plans for possible further reopening given the rise of the Indian variant of the virus but encouraged people to get out and about.

He said: “Stages and screens are coming to life again in London’s theatres, cinemas and music venues for socially distanced audiences.”

It’s not just art exhibitions that got the green light to reopen from today, with stages and screens coming to life again in London’s theatres, cinemas and music venues for socially distanced audiences.“

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