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By Chris Cooke | Published on Wednesday 9 June 2021
Andrew Lloyd Webber has promised “the mother of all legal cases” if the UK government pushes back on the planned 21 Jun lifting of COVID restrictions for venues and live entertainment.
In a new interview with the Daily Telegraph, the composer and theatre producer echoes arguments made by venues and promoters across the live music music sector in recent days, that the government’s own scientific research demonstrates that allowing full capacity shows to resume doesn’t pose any tangible risk in terms of new COVID infections.
Lloyd Webber was talking to the newspaper about his new show ‘Cinderella’, which is due to start previewing at one of the London theatres he operates on 25 Jun. The timing of the show’s previews, of course, is deliberate, coming shortly after the planned lifting of COVID restrictions in England on 21 Jun, which will allow venues to start operating at full capacity again.
However, that 21 Jun target date for lifting the current COVID restrictions was always subject to change, and reports have been circulating in recent days that ministers are seriously considering pushing things back by up to a month because of concerns caused by the latest variant of the coronavirus, what is now being referred to as the delta variant. A final decision is expected next Monday.
Any push back would come despite the government’s Events Research Programme – which has been investigating how to safely allow fuller capacity events to return – and which has strongly indicated that, provided certain logistical guidelines are adhered to, the risk of contracting COVID at a full capacity entertainment venue is no higher than in a shopping centre or at a restaurant.
Although many venues have re-opened since the initial lifting of COVID restrictions last month, social distancing rules are still currently in force making it difficult for shows to operate in a profitable way. And a production of the scale of Lloyd Webber’s ‘Cinderella’ is definitely not viable while social distancing is still a requirement.
Asked about the possibility of the 21 Jun target being pushed back, Lloyd Webber told the Telegraph: “I’ve seen the science from the tests … they all prove that theatres are completely safe, the virus is not carried there. 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’”.
A similar argument was presented yesterday by LIVE, the cross-sector trade group for the live entertainment sector in the UK. Its CEO, Greg Parmley, said in a statement: “The government’s indication of a possible delay to [lifting current COVID rules] is astounding – by its own evidence from the Events Research Programme, as we saw at both the BRITs and in [test events held in] Liverpool, large scale events can happen safely with the right precautions in place”.
“Live entertainment is ready and able to operate in the new normal and will continue to safeguard public health as it reopens”, he added. “The government must act decisively if it is to avoid the decline of the UK’s world-leading live music industry, which absolutely cannot afford to miss out on another summer of cancelled events after a year on pause”.
Meanwhile, speaking for the wider night-time sector, Michael Kill of the Night Time Industries Association also threatened legal action if restrictions stay in force beyond 21 Jun.
He stated: “Night time economy businesses have waited patiently for their opportunity to open for over fifteen months. Many have not survived, some are on a cliff edge, hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost, a huge pool of talent has been swept away and left to suffer extreme financial hardship. We should not underestimate the importance of 21 Jun to these businesses, employees, entertainers and freelancers, a day when they are given back there freedom to trade, livelihoods, careers, social well being and the day that the government gives culture back to the UK”.
“We must be open on the 21 Jun”, he added. “These businesses cannot wait one more week, they deserve this opportunity, given their continual commitment to the government’s public health strategy. The decision to delay will leave us no other option but to challenge the government aggressively, standing alongside many other industries who have been locked down or restricted from opening”.
Back in the Telegraph, a bullish Lloyd Webber declared: “We are going to open, come hell or high water”. As for what he’d do if the government does indeed push everything back into July, he added: “We will say: come to the theatre and arrest us”.