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Kenneth More Theatre’s re-opening cancelled after last-minute government U-turn

PUBLISHED: 12:19 03 August 2020 | UPDATED: 10:14 05 August 2020

The Kenneth More Theatre was planning on being one of the first to stage live performances but had to cancel those plans after government guidelines changed on Friday. Picture: Vision RCL

The Kenneth More Theatre was planning on being one of the first to stage live performances but had to cancel those plans after government guidelines changed on Friday. Picture: Vision RCL

Archant

The Kenneth More Theatre, which had planned to stage its first post-lockdown live performance on Saturday, was forced to postpone it after government guidelines changed on Friday.

Christopher Marlowe is planning on previewing this year's panto at Saturday's performance. Picture: Vision RCLChristopher Marlowe is planning on previewing this year's panto at Saturday's performance. Picture: Vision RCL

The theatre, run by the council’s culture and leisure partner Vision RCL, revamped the venue to put in place strict safety measures and was planning a performance to celebrate all things theatre.

As coronavirus cases increased across the country the government decided to stop any indoor live performances from going forward as planned on Saturday, August 1.

In a statement issued on Friday a spokesperson for the theatre said it was disappointed it needed to cancel the performance just a day before the re-opening and said the government’s announcement “shows a lack of understanding about the sector and how it can work safely, in a controlled environment”.

Performers from Redbridge Drama Centre rehearsing for the big show. Picture: Vision RCLPerformers from Redbridge Drama Centre rehearsing for the big show. Picture: Vision RCL

The spokesperson added: “Unlike many theatres we are in a position where it can be viable reopen.

“We’ve implemented thorough social distancing throughout the theatre and are confident that our standards are at the highest level beyond many sectors that have already re-opened.

“The theatre is not only part of our local cultural offer but a lifeline for many involved.”

Performers from the Redbridge Drama Centre, along with some surprise guests from the West End, were “ready to go” but the theatre now says it will re-open “on the very first day that we are legally able to”.

The original opening on August 1 was scrapped after the government changed its guidelines on indoor performances at the last minute. Picture: Vision RCLThe original opening on August 1 was scrapped after the government changed its guidelines on indoor performances at the last minute. Picture: Vision RCL

Head of theatre Sally Polden said her whole team’s heart sank when they watched the live broadcast announcing that theatres could not open yet.

“I am not ashamed to admit I burst into tears.

“We worked so hard to make the theatre ready.”

Safety preparation for the theatre included cutting the capacity in half, with seats for just 150 people, instead of the normal capacity of 365.

When it is allowed to re-open audience members will be separated and there will be multiple exits and entrances to minimise the number of people together.

There will be a one-way system in place for performers and singers on stage will only be permitted to sing back-to-back.

The front row of seats has been removed to further extend the space from the performers and the audience.

Since the Redbridge Drama Centre operates as a college course, which has been ongoing since June, the students are already in safety bubbles.

Around 30 people had booked tickets for the re-opening live performance with an additional 40-50 seats reserved before they had to cancel the performance

Sally said the reaction she received after announcing they couldn’t open was incredible and many people pledged to attend once it is rescheduled.

There were also a number of performers who weren’t available for the original re-opening but have pledged to come for the next one.

Sally said: “We have just tried to turn it into a positive.

“It’s fundamentally very disappointing because we have done so many measures to keep it safe and why some things are allowed to open and not others just boggles my mind.”

The theatre plans to open for screenings next week and will announce a new date for live performances once the government guidelines allow it to do so.

The government has said it would re-visit when theatres can re-open in two weeks but Sally said she isn’t scheduling a new date yet because she doesn’t want to get people’s hopes up again.

She said: “We invested financially and a lot of people put in a lot of work and time into re-opening.

“So having learned from what happened last week, we don’t want throw a huge amount of work into that again until we know for certain we can open.

“So many people have got in touch and expressed their support so one thing that is certain is that once we do open we will have a busy evening.”


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