Lights out for London theatre

panto poster from Palladium 2020

Pantoland at the Palladium will now close after only 4 days.

With the announcement that London is to go into Tier 3 from midnight tonight (15th December), hopes for West End pantos and Christmas shows are finally dashed for good.

The London Palladium started its Covid-secure performances of Pantoland on 12th December, but will now have to cancel the rest of the run of its Christmas extravaganza, starring Julian Clary, Elaine Paige, Beverley Knight and others.

Michael Harrison, producer of the show, expressed his dismay in a statement:

“We are devastated by today’s news that London will move to Tier 3, forcing the closure of Pantoland at The Palladium.

“We are deeply concerned about the economic impact of today’s decision for businesses in the West End and believe that we have done everything possible to ensure a Covid-secure environment within The London Palladium for our audiences, following all advice from Government. Whilst the safety and health of our visitors, staff and performers is of extreme importance, the Government’s yo-yoing approach on advice is frankly appalling. It is not possible for any business to function in an environment where our leaders seem to have simply no idea how our country will look from one week to the next. The advice is bordering on incompetent.

Pantoland at The Palladium opened to rapturous standing ovations, and we saw a reaction from the audience like nothing we’ve experienced before – such was their delight to be back in the theatre seeing live performance. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, saw for himself on Friday the rigorous safety measures in place at The London Palladium and I was thrilled to see him crying with laughter, it’s just a shame my entire cast and Company are now crying because of the Government’s decision to put London into Tier 2 just 12 days ago encouraging us all to press on with our productions only to realise that was in fact a mistake. One of many, many mistakes.

“Our partners at LW Theatres will be in touch with customers directly regarding refunds, and we ask for the audience’s patience as we work through contacting the tens of thousands of customers who were looking forward to a magical visit to pantomime in the West End this Christmas.”

“Devastation for the theatre and the economy”

Several West End shows had restarted over the last two weeks, including Six the Musical, Love Letters, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and a concert version of Les Miserables starring Michael Ball and Alfie Boe.

Producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh, whose shows include Les Miserables, said the government’s “sudden volte face” was “devastating for both the theatre and the economy”.

“The constant changes of rules and advice we have received is impossible for any business to react to. Where is the leadership this government promised?”

Andrew Lloyd Webber, owner of the London Palladium, was more resigned. He said that though it seemed “arbitrary and unfair” that theatre performances were being banned while shopping could continue, the he “reluctantly” agreed with the decision to put London into Tier 3.

Music venues, museums and galleries also to close

Beyond the West End, other venues expressed bitter disappointment that after such a roller-coaster of “can-we-can’t-we”, and the efforts and expense of getting ready to open under Covid-19 constraints, the end result is a dark auditorium over Christmas.

The Royal Albert Hall said today (15th December):

“Tonight we will have our final concert of 2020. Handel’s Messiah is a real Royal Albert Hall tradition, having been performed here 524 times since 1872, so welcoming our final 1,000 customers this evening will be especially poignant.

When our Christmas season went on sale in December 2019, none of us could have imagined where we would be today. With hundreds of cancelled shows through the year, we were so hopeful to have a Christmas season. What is usually around 37 performances became 14, with The Nutcracker and My Christmas Orchestral Adventure falling victim to the impossible financial picture. Christmas carols were planned – at full capacity, then at 50% and then at 20%. We had hoped to make up for the lost income by streaming a carols performances across the world. But it was not to be, and following the announcement yesterday of a move into Tier 3 tomorrow, our considerably-reduced season of 14 performances ended up being just three performances to 1,000 people each.

Sadly, because this cancellation comes so late in the day, we have already committed a huge amount of resource to the performances including marketing, bringing staff back to work and remobilisation training. We will now refund almost £500k in tickets for Christmas performances and streamed concerts. This is on top of the £30m income and £8.9m in tickets and fees we have already lost in 2020. We are so disappointed that we have to cancel these performances and cannot wait to return, safely, to full capacity for our 150th anniversary in 2021.”

London galleries and museums such as the two Tates and the British Museum are also having to close their doors from tomorrow.

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