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Theatres: 'It will be fantastic to welcome audiences back'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's announcement that live performances may start again from May 17 has been met with happiness from some of our prominent venues.
Cresset January 2020
There are hopefully happier times again for the Cresset. Photo: John Baker

The Cresset was the only one of the city's big three theatres to host a pantomime in winter, with separate chairs and tables, a one way system and table service from masked staff.

The show itself featured several Covid-related jokes, but sadly the run did not last long as the city entered Tier 3 just before the Christmas period, with its last performance on December 18.

Since then no shows have taken place and there have been several cancellations of upcoming shows - but following Johnson's roadmap announcement yesterday indoor and outdoor venues are both now preparing to open in three months.

Venues will be allowed to open at up to 50%, subject to a continuation of the vaccination rollout.

Head of Cresset Commercial Activities Penny Hansen said: "I was in a budget meeting, and by the time I came out and saw the transcript from Boris I had to rip it up and start again!

"It is good news. Boris said that he was prioritising certainty, and I think that's absolutely right for the hospitality industry. Opening and closing again is expensive where there is only a short shelf-life for a lot of what we sell, and support from the government is crucial in helping the industry to get back on its feet.

"I know the events team are looking forward to contacting all our brides who have been waiting for this announcement, and will be delighted to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

"We don't have anything to plug as such, because the diary keeps changing – however there is plenty in there, and so many shows on sale on our website, we’ve added over 50 new events since the first lockdown! 

"But assuming there will be some sort of furlough continuation this now gives us a much clearer indication of where things will be and we can look forward to summer and hopefully an autumn where we're back to full capacity, which will feel phenomenal. It will be fantastic to welcome audiences back into the venue in 2021."

The need for financial support in the interim and possibly beyond was backed up by David Hutchinson, the CEO of Selladoor which operates the New Theatre Peterborough in Broadway.

He said: "We welcome the roadmap announcement - including the full reopening of theatres without legal limits on capacity, by the end of June.

"Having been one of the worst-hit sectors of the pandemic, and which will emerge as one of the last to reopen, it is now crucial that Rishi Sunak announces a package of sector specific recovery support to help theatres and productions get back on their feet again as part of his budget next week.

"This should include an extension of job support schemes for freelance and salaried practitioners until the summer. An extension on 5% VAT on tickets until 2022. An extension of business rates holidays for theatres and performing arts venues until 2022.

"And a doubling of the Theatre Tax Relief Scheme to support producers and individuals in launching shows, and reengaging audiences, after an almost 18-month absence.

"This package of measures is absolutely essential for the sector to be able to build back our content, and confidence, to relaunch without Covid-specific insurance."

Mr Hutchinson added that the company would be focusing on live gaming experiences at its sites, with an intended opening in late summer.