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How will the West End look when theatre is back in business?

It’s difficult to know exactly what the West End might look like when it finally returns: already there’s been some shape-shifting.

It’s difficult, these days, to live in the present, not least because the present is so godawful. We are already living in a noticeably changed world, through no fault of our own. Well, some of the fault is ours, or at least the foolishness of our fellow citizens in electing fools like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson to lead us. (No, they’re neither of them to blame for a killer virus in our midst; but both seriously botched their responses to them, so the outcomes have already proved worse for the UK and UK than pretty much any other Western economy).

Inevitably, we’re all chalking up significant losses as a result: the New York Times has twice in the last month memorialised food establishments, from donut shops and diners to hot dog shops, and from cafes and dim-sum parlours to jazz clubs that served food, around the US that haven’t survived 2020. There’s going to be similar articles to be written, alas, about cultural organisations that have failed, too, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Many have already thrown in the towel, like Southampton’s NTS Theatres or London’s Bridge House Theatre, as I mentioned here the other day. But if and when business can be resumed, the next question will be whether there’s enough interest to sustain those remaining. On Broadway, the first shows to announce they weren’t going to come back after theatres re-open, whenever that might be, were a couple that were in previews and hadn’t even opened yet, as I’ve previously noted here: Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Hangman. Then Disney announced they would not be re-opening Frozen on Broadway, post-pandemic: they already had two stronger titles on the boards (The Lion King and Aladdin), and didn’t want to compete with themselves in the marketplace for family shows.

On Thursday, the stage musical version of Mean Girls also announced it won’t be coming back now: its final performance was 11 March 2020, the night before Broadway was shut down, so it has closed after 805 performances and 29 previews. During that run, it grossed $124m and was seen by over 1m people, recouping its full capitalisation by early 2020.

In London, meanwhile, Thriller – Live, which had already announced its closing night at the Lyric, announced its premature closing on that night before it was even reached; City of Angels, which was in previews at the Garrick, also closed without opening (it was coincidentally the show I was actually headed into town on 17 March when the West End was shut down), though it could hopefully be revived in the future; while other shows that were booking for the near future, like Hello, Dolly! that was due to go into the Adelphi last summer, announced a postponement of those plans.

As did the planned West End transfer of the Almeida’s production of The Doctor to the Duke of York’s; the show due after that was a transfer for the Nationals’ stage version of The Ocean at the End of the Lane; that has now announced new dates, beginning performances from October 23 prior to an official opening on November 4.

The Doctor, in turn, has announced that its transfer will now not take place until 2021: in a press statement, its star Juliet Stevenson said,

“Very occasionally in a career, maybe once a decade if you’re lucky, you get the chance to perform in a play that speaks so powerfully to its time that it captures everyone’s hearts and minds. The Doctor did that [in 2019] at the Almeida, and was set to do it again in the West End when Covid-19 brought it crashing to a halt – along with almost everything else. Whilst accepting the inevitable, I was pretty gutted – and am missing the production, the wonderful company, the character, and above all the experience of taking the play out they’re nightly to new and hungry audiences. So I am thrilled that we will be back next Spring, and that audiences emerging from their seclusion will have the chance to see it…. We will get through this strange and isolating chapter – and then theatre will play a key role in bringing people back together, to share our stories and to celebrate our capacity to roll with the punches and get back up.“

It’s difficult to know exactly what the West End might look like when it finally returns: already there’s been some shape-shifting, with Six, for instance, moving out of the Arts for a temporary residency at the Lyric on Shaftesbury Avenue. Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, which was on a limited run that would have ended by now, is planning on returning to complete its run from June 12 to September 4, while its next tenant — a transfer for Life of Pi from Sheffield’s Crucible — is currently booking to begin performances there from September 26, prior to an official opening on October 14.

With the government’s current national lockdown now being touted in the press as lasting till Easter, it seems odd to me that shows like Songs for a New World and Come from Away the Concert are still booking for February openings, respectively at the Vaudeville (planned from February 5) and Phoenix (from February 10).

I’d say that shows that are due to open in April might, at this point, also be looking dicey: these includes the already delayed West End premiere for Disney’s Frozen (due at the completely refurbished Theatre Royal, Drury Lane from April 2), a West End return for Jersey Boys (due at the Trafalgar — reinstating the original layout of the Whitehall — from April 14), a new production of CP Taylor’s Good (due at the Pinter Theatre, starring David Tennant in a role originally played by the late Alan Howard in its original RSC production, from April 21) Hairspray (due at the Coliseum from April 22), and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest, Cinderella (due at the Gillian Lynne from April 30).

Let’s hope that the planned May openings still hold; these include Anything Goes (at the Barbican from May 8), Back to the Future (at the Adelphi from May 14) and the transfer of To Kill a Mockingbird from Broadway (at the Gielgud from May 27).

I’m sure their producers need to remain hopeful; but in the midst of still-escalating health crisis, who will be booking or any of them?

from News, Reviews and Features – My Theatre Mates

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