Lloyd Webber vows to open new musical with full house, even if illegal

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London: Andrew Lloyd Webber has pledged to reopen his theatres without social distancing later this month “come hell or high water” – and is prepared to be arrested for it.

Lloyd-Webber said his theatres were suffering “acute financial stress” that could only be alleviated by fully reopening, which he is willing to do even if the government delays ending COVID-19 restrictions.

He said he may have to sell his six West End venues and had re-mortgaged his London home. He also claimed he had seen scientific proof that coronavirus was not spread in theatres.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, pictured here in December 2019, says his new musical Cinderella cannot make a profit without a full house.Credit:Invision

Cinderella, Lloyd-Webber’s first new musical in six years, is reliant on selling tickets for all seats to recoup its £6 million ($10 million) investment when previews begin on June 25, ahead of its world premiere three weeks later.

Lloyd-Webber’s defiant stance puts him on a potential collision course with Boris Johnson, who is under pressure from scientists and senior ministers to resist removing all lockdown restrictions on June 21, the date set out in his road map.

Downing Street is awaiting more COVID data later this week before making a decision, to be announced on Monday, as to whether the reopening in England will happen as originally envisioned.

There were 6,048 new COVID cases on Tuesday, with the number of cases in the past week rising by more than 60 per cent to 38,679. Amid concern over the Delta variant, guidance to minimise travel and only meet outdoors was extended to cover the whole of Greater Manchester and Lancashire – a total of 5.7 million people.

Lloyd-Webber, 73, said: “We are going to open, come hell or high water.” Asked what he would do if the government postponed lifting the lockdown, he replied: “We will say: ‘come to the theatre and arrest us’.”

The composer insisted he had seen scientific proof that theatres did not spread coronavirus and threatened legal action against the government if the Prime Minister did not stick to his road map.

Cinderella, with an ensemble cast of 34, is only commercially viable if audience capacity is dramatically lifted. Under current laws, West End theatres can only operate at 50 per cent capacity.

“I’ve seen the science from the tests; don’t ask me how. They all prove that theatres are completely safe, the virus is not carried there,” said Lloyd-Webber, “If the government ignore their own science, we have the mother of all legal cases against them. If Cinderella couldn’t open, we’d go, ‘Look, either we go to law about it or you’ll have to compensate us’.”

Theatres were able to partially reopen from May 17 but socially distancing measures have left many of the bigger theatres making a loss. It is currently costing Lord Lloyd-Webber £1 million ($1.8 million) a month to keep his six theatres closed.

A former Conservative peer who retired from the House of Lords in 2017, Lord Lloyd-Webber took a sideswipe at the Prime Minister for failing to offer sufficient financial support to the theatre industry. “Unfortunately, the government regards theatre as a nice thing to have rather than a necessity,” he said, adding: “I don’t know Boris at all. He has shown no interest in getting in touch.”

But the impresario did admit that last year, a source in government had sent him a “coded message” informing him of the impending lockdown, enabling him to inform staff at his theatre company of the “doomsday scenario” being put in place.

Asked if he might have to sell some of his theatres if the government does not allow full reopening, Lord Lloyd-Webber said: “There is a real risk of that.”

He said: “I will fight to the last ditch to prevent that happening, but no one can deny that there are foreign buyers sniffing around who would quite love to have these [theatres] as trophy assets. They call them bottom-feeders, don’t they?”

A scene from Jesus Christ Superstar at O2 theatre, 2012. Entertainment venues are currently capped at 50 per cent capacity.

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, is understood to be willing to accept a four-week delay to the June 21 reopening if required by analysis of the data.

There are understood to be particular doubts about the plans for nightclubs to reopen, with concerns about COVID spreading on dance floors.

However, ministers still hope that, if the data allows, the law enshrining the current lockdown rules will expire at the end of the month as planned.

However some MPs and industry figures fear that even if the legal requirements are lifted, a web of stringent guidance could be put in its place, encouraging people to act as if in lockdown.

The Telegraph, London

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