As for measures like Covid passes, some venues have been stringent in their requirements. Moulin Rouge! The Musical was at the forefront of shows wanting to see proof of vaccination; Cabaret went further, wanting a negative test result as a condition of entry. Others have appeared more laissez faire.
“A lot of the West End theatres nominally request the Covid pass but don’t enforce it at all,” suggests Neil McPherson who runs the tiny Finborough pub theatre in Earl’s Court. “I know that makes people very nervous, because audience members don’t know where they are.” When he reopens in March, he says he will insist on mask-wearing and Covid-pass showing.
McPherson’s decision is not typical, however, and the fragmentary nature of theatre management’s decisions is clear. At the Barn in Cirencester, artistic director Iwan Lewis says: “Most of our audience won’t now wear a face-mask. They feel safe and they don’t want to spend good money to go to the theatre and then have to put one on.” Ticket sales have recently rocketed, he notes.
But while such buoyancy may work in smaller venues out of London, it’s clear that not all audiences are going to flock back so easily. The producer Michael Rose believes the industry should have gone further in being emphatic about what was required. “I think the first show that said ‘You won’t get in unless you’ve had the vaccine and wear a face mask’ was Moulin Rouge!. I thought: thank God someone has put their head above the parapet and said: ‘These are the rules.’ We should have been doing that as an industry nationwide.”
It needs little wisdom of hindsight to see that the industry should have attempted a more unified approach, despite shifting circumstances. My view is this: in London, let’s keep face-masks on until spring to help restore confidence. But, unless there’s an immersive component, let’s scrap other requirements. And let each regional theatre – which will know its audience better than anyone – adopt its own policy. Yes, confusion over the requirements is a minor inconvenience, but inconsistency begets mistrust – and will hinder a recovery before it is fully under way.