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Andrew Lloyd Webber says he will not defy COVID-19 rules to open his new musical at full capacity this week

By | Published on Monday 21 June 2021

Andrew Lloyd Webber

Despite bold claims earlier this month, Andrew Lloyd Webber will not be opening his new production of ‘Cinderella’ at 100% capacity this month, a move that would have involved ignoring extended pandemic restrictions. Nor, it seems, will he be launching the “mother of all legal cases”. And he certainly won’t be adding the show to the list of the government’s fuller capacity pilot events.

As it became increasingly clear that the UK government would not be lifting remaining COVID-19 restrictions in England today, as had been originally hoped, Lloyd Webber said that his new theatre show – due to begin previews this week – was “going to open” at full capacity “come hell or high water” and if the government didn’t like it, they could “come to the theatre and arrest us”.

However, in a statement last week, after lockdown was indeed extended for a further month, Lloyd Webber said: “Having taken legal opinion from senior counsel, if we had gone ahead at 100%, it would be very likely that every member of my cast, crew and orchestra, the front and backstage staff, plus our loyal audience members, could be individually fined £500, which I couldn’t possibly risk. If it were just me, I would happily risk arrest and fines to make a stand and lead the live music and theatre industry back to the full capacities we so desperately need”.

‘Cinderella’ will still open for previews at the Gillian Lynne Theatre in London on 25 Jun, but at the maximum 50% capacity allowed under current rules. Lloyd Webber said that he had decided to go ahead with a socially distanced audience because he “could not look my young cast and crew in the eyes to tell them we were delaying or closing down”. As a result, he will “personally bear the losses until we fully open on – or hopefully before – 19 Jul”.

The show did, in fact, have the option of opening at a fuller capacity by joining the government’s Events Research Programme, which has been piloting various live events without COVID restrictions in place in order to gather data on the safe reopening of the live industry.

Lloyd Webber says that this option was only first proposed last week – after his widely reported threats of legal action – and that he would only have accepted the offer to participate in the ERP “if others were involved and the rest of the industry – theatre and music – were treated equally”. As this was not going to be the case, he refused to participate, saying that “the theatre industry and its audiences is, once again, an afterthought and undervalued”.

He has previously – like so many others – pointed out that the findings of the ERP to date show that full capacity live events can be run safely, with low or no transmissions of COVID-19, if operated within certain conditions. CEO of live music industry trade body LIVE, Greg Parmley, said that he was “astounded” that the government appeared to be ignoring its own research by further postponing full-capacity shows, despite that decision pushing the live industry ever closer to the brink of collapse.

In new comments responding to Lloyd Webber’s latest statement, Parmley says: “The live music industry has spent months participating and paying for pilot events so we could reopen at full capacity safely. These events were a huge success and show, alongside every other international pilot, that with the right mitigations full capacity live events are safe. Despite this the government has refused to publish this data, forced us to remain closed and then tried to hand-pick a number of high profile events to go ahead whilst the rest of our industries are devastated”.

Lloyd Webber concludes his statement by thanking the “thousands” of people who have sent him messages of support since his initial comments on reopening, “including those who wanted to come and bring me cake in jail”.