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UK

Dismay as London's theatres forced to close their doors again

LONDON (Reuters) - London’s theatres will shut again on Wednesday as the British capital moves into the toughest level of coronavirus restrictions, with some forced to close Christmas shows just days after they opened, in a hammer blow for the industry.

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The government on Monday announced that the rate of coronavirus infections was rising exponentially in London and all hospitality and indoor entertainment would close, giving the industry two days notice.

“It’s a huge blow for the casts, for the crews, for the creative teams. You know, a huge amount of money has been invested in getting these Christmas shows up and running, and now they have to close,” said Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre.

About 30 theatres are open in London, he said, ranging in size from small pub theatres to massive auditoriums.

After an extremely difficult year many theatres had adapted their premises and shows to be COVID safe with reduced capacity, socially distanced seating, and temperature checks at the door. Audiences felt safe, he said.

Louis Hartshorn, chief executive officer of Hartshorn-Hook Productions said: “It’s a hammer blow to an industry that’s already on its knees ... we have managed to put together a production expecting that there might be some twists in the road. But actually, we’re getting to the point where the reserves are exhausted.”

His company’s production of The Great Gatsby reopened in October, but now faces its second shut down in two months.

Theatres all over Britain felt the same, he said.

London’s theatre scene is slightly bigger than Broadway in New York, with just over 15 million attendances in 2019, according to the Society of London Theatre’s box office data.

The city’s theatres saw revenue of nearly 800 million pounds last year, with the average ticket costing around 50 pounds.

Out in London’s West End theatre district on Tuesday for their likely last chance of seeing a show this year, Lisa and Carly Sandom from Essex said they were dismayed.

“This is completely depressing. (I am) gutted for all the people that work for the theatres and the production. It’s awful,” said Carly Sandom.

Jennifer Webb, also in London to see a show, said she couldn’t understand why theatres must close but shops, packed with Christmas shoppers, could remain open.

“Really the shops ... should be the places that are closed and the theatres, that are managing everything beautifully to get audiences in ... should be the places that are open.”

Reporting by Sarah Mills; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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