‘Theatre forced off cliff’: Calls grow for Covid events pilot data to be published

25 June 2021, 06:16 | Updated: 25 June 2021, 08:24

  • Andrew Lloyd Webber and leading theatreland figures launch legal action to force ministers to publish details of covid pilot events
  • Mayor of London tells LBC he backs the legal action
  • Entertainment industry figures say they are being treated unfairly compared to major sporting events
  • Thousands of live gigs to be cancelled due to four-week delay to end of lockdown
  • Government says they will publish details before 'Step 4' on July 19
Andrew Lloyd Webber has launched legal action against the government
Andrew Lloyd Webber has launched legal action against the government. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

The Mayor of London has joined leading entertainment figures saying it is "inexplicable" that Lord Lloyd Webber has been forced to take legal action against the Government to make them reveal details of Covid-19 pilot schemes.

In a stinging condemnation of the government's handling of the closure of large-scale entertainment, Sadiq Khan backed the legal action saying "sunlight is the best disinfectant."

"I suspect it could be because the government could be nervous there actually weren't good reasons not to have events have more people than is currently allowed," he told LBC.

"It's unclear, inexplicable why you wouldn't share the evidence."

Event organisers had expected the findings to be made available last week, but publication was delayed without explanation, causing chaos for the planning of shows and large events for the remainder of summer.

Entertainment industry figures say they are being treated unfairly compared to major sporting events, which have been allowed to go ahead in front of large crowds.

"The short-term hit is stark," said the live event industries in a statement yesterday.

"Research indicates that the potential four-week delay to reopening will lead to about 5,000 live music gigs being cancelled, as well as numerous theatre productions across the country, costing hundreds of millions of pounds in lost income."

West End and Broadway producer Sonia Friedman said: "The Government continues to display a wilful lack of understanding of the extraordinary value of the theatre industry and the way in which we operate.

"We can only fully reopen once. We need absolute clarity on when and how we can fully reopen - to bring a show back to full production takes months in planning to rehearse and to build a box office advance.

"It is also incumbent on the Government to underwrite the potential losses riding on its words and provide an insurance scheme to theatre and live entertainment that it, readily and rightly, provided to the film and television industries.

"Right now, the Government's delay and lack of provision and support for the commercial sector has prohibited our reopening in full, but its dithering and lack of clarity is preventing us even being able to make a plan as to how we move forward to save the industry that we love."

Theatre boss Cameron Mackintosh said: "Having been forced to close our theatres twice last year, the second time after the Government encouraged reopening for Christmas, losing further millions as a result, a joint insurance scheme to protect us against another enforced closure is vital.

"Along with most of the commercial theatre we have had absolutely no direct financial help either for our productions or the upkeep of our historic theatres.

"Opening without any sort of protection is impossible for many producers, live event organisers and theatre buildings across the country.

"Having contributed huge amounts of money to the exchequer over the last few decades, the theatre desperately needs to be supported in its hour of need or the Government will be responsible for the disintegration of one of this country's most priceless and irreplaceable assets after centuries of being the envy of the world."

Lord Lloyd Webber and other leading figures in live music launched the action to force the Government to hand over the results from its coronavirus pilot events scheme.

The Events Research Programme ran test events at sporting, music and arts venues to assess the safety of large gatherings during the pandemic.

In a statement the group, which also includes musician Peter Gabriel, theatre producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh and music industry trade body Live, accused the Government of "making it impossible to plan for any live entertainment business" by not sharing their findings.

Live shows as part of the scheme have included the Brit Awards, music event Download Festival and a snooker tournament at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre.

"These events have been a huge success, according to the Government itself in various press reports, showing that with proper precautions in place, live events at full capacity can go ahead safely," the statement said.

"But the Government chose to keep the live entertainment industry under severe restrictions from June 21, while allowing parts of the economy that have not been subject to similar scientific studies, including hospitality, public transport and retail, to operate.

"The Government has also refused to publish the results from the first phase of the Events Research Programme, despite saying that it would do so on numerous occasions."

Last week composer Lord Lloyd-Webber rejected an offer from Prime Minister Boris Johnson for one of his West End shows to be included in the pilot scheme for live events.

He said in a statement on Thursday: "Last week I rejected the Government's invitation for Cinderella to be singled out as a last-minute part of the Events Research Programme.

"Today, with a range of voices from across the theatre and live entertainment industries, we are forced to take it further.

"We simply must now see the data that is being used to strangle our industry so unfairly.

"The Government's actions are forcing theatre and music companies off a cliff as the summer wears on, whilst cherry-picking high-profile sporting events to go ahead.

"The situation is beyond urgent."

The group also called for a Government-backed insurance scheme for live events, new rules around quarantining for productions where someone tests positive for coronavirus, and clearer guidance about how they will operate going forward.

A Government spokeswoman said: "We understand a delay to full reopening is challenging for live events but we are helping our creative industries and sporting bodies through it.

"We have made a record £2 billion of support available for culture and £600 million for sports, on top of billions more through other Government schemes.

"Our ongoing, groundbreaking Events Research Programme is gathering important evidence to help get all live events, including theatre shows, festivals and gigs, fully back up and running once it is safe to do so.

"We will publish the results of the programme before the move to Step 4, as we have always promised to. This aligns with the publication commitments for the other road map reviews."