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‘Ilford is showing the rest of the country what can be done’ - Kenneth More re-opens with first live performance

PUBLISHED: 17:38 24 August 2020 | UPDATED: 09:31 25 August 2020

The Kenneth More Theatre celebrated all things theatre at the Grand Re-opening show on Saturday, August 22. Picture: Roy Chacko

The Kenneth More Theatre celebrated all things theatre at the Grand Re-opening show on Saturday, August 22. Picture: Roy Chacko

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Performers at the first post-lockdown show at Ilford’s Kenneth More Theatre received a standing ovation after pledging to not let Covid bring it down.

The Maktub Theatre Company performed an original piece which channelled the anxieties felt during lockdown. Picture: Roy ChackoThe Maktub Theatre Company performed an original piece which channelled the anxieties felt during lockdown. Picture: Roy Chacko

For some audience members the night out to the theatre, one of the only venues in the country to re-open, was their first time out since lockdown started.

Alex Abbott travelled nearly three hours round trip on public transport from Hertfordshire on Saturday (August 22) to see how a performance could be held in the new normal.

He said: “It was wonderful to be back seeing a live performance in a theatre again.

Seats were separated so no one was sitting directly in front or to the side of you. Picture: Roy ChackoSeats were separated so no one was sitting directly in front or to the side of you. Picture: Roy Chacko

“Ilford is showing the rest of the country what can be done.”

The theatre was originally due to re-open on August 1 but had to postpone that at the last minute when the government changed the guidelines on when indoor performances could resume.

Vision RCL, the council’s culture and leisure partner which took over the running of the theatre last year, had strict safety measures in place for Saturday’s performance, which was a celebration of all things theatre.

Members of the Redbridge Drama Centre received a standing ovation as they closed the show. Picture: Roy ChackoMembers of the Redbridge Drama Centre received a standing ovation as they closed the show. Picture: Roy Chacko

The first manager of the KMT, Vivyan Ellacott, who was at the helm for 36 years, was the first MC and said: “We have been waiting for this for the last five months so let’s enjoy every moment.”

The night started out with a string quartet, followed by musical numbers, dance performances and a preview of an original work in progress from the Maktub Theatre Company.

Maktub channelled the anxiety of the pandemic in their performance with people fighting over toilet paper, hand sanitiser and one performer doing a spot-on impression of Boris Johnson’s muddled messaging.

KMT staff all wore masks throughout, and audience members were encouraged to wear them as well but it was not enforced. Picture: Roy ChackoKMT staff all wore masks throughout, and audience members were encouraged to wear them as well but it was not enforced. Picture: Roy Chacko

Darren Hart, who played Prince Percy in Sleeping Beauty last year, announced that this year’s panto, Snow White, will be going ahead.

He said: “The KMT has had panto every year since it opened in 1975.

“Covid ain’t stopping panto.”

The theatre was originally slated to re-open on August 1st but had to cancel at the last minute after the government changed the policy on indoor performances at that time. Picture: Roy ChackoThe theatre was originally slated to re-open on August 1st but had to cancel at the last minute after the government changed the policy on indoor performances at that time. Picture: Roy Chacko

Performers had to follow a one-way system backstage and they were kept in their individual safety bubbles.

There were four microphones spaced out on the stage and performers would alternate using them before they were wiped down and sanitised.

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Seats were separated so no one was sitting directly in front or to the side of you.

Being back in a theatre was both very familiar and foreign at the same time.

While the theatre’s staff (except performers) wore masks throughout, audience members were encouraged to wear masks but it was not enforced.

Most audience members took off their masks soon after sitting down.

Stephanie Barrows, who has only left her home for her daily exercise throughout lockdown, said she felt safe being back in the audience.

She said: “The new normal takes some getting used to, but it’s actually OK to socially distance and wear masks.

“It’s even possible to forget you are doing so as you get lost in the magic of music and theatre.”

Jenny Eves, from Seven Kings, said: “I had the feeling that things in the world are going to be OK and there was some normality seeing live theatre.”

Harry Polden, who performed alongside other students from the Redbridge Drama Centre, said being back on stage “felt like a massive moment of normality”.

The last time the group performed in front of a live audience was in February.

He added: “Before we went on were so excited and nervous we started shaking because it had been so long.

“It was absolutely daunting but a real privilege and exactly what we wanted to do.”

Fraser Stainton, who performed a satirical song called I Really, Really Love You (The Stalker Song), said it was a true honour to be back on stage.

“There was such an incredible buzz and atmosphere in the air, hearing an audience laugh and clap again was just the most wonderful feeling.

“That responsiveness of the audience was what we missed most these last few months.

“It was a very special night to be a part of.”


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