Andrew Lloyd Webber launches legal action to force government to publish Covid pilot events results

25 June 2021, 10:53 | Updated: 25 June 2021, 10:56

Andrew Lloyd Webber launches legal action to force government to publish Covid pilot events results
Andrew Lloyd Webber launches legal action to force government to publish Covid pilot events results. Picture: PA

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Music and theatre sector is being treated ‘unfairly’, industry figures argue, as they take legal action against government to force ministers to publish pilot event results.

Andrew Lloyd Webber says the UK arts industry is being “strangled” and is joined by leading figures in launching legal action against the government, following the most recent delay to the easing of lockdown restrictions.

The composer’s Really Useful Group, Les Misérables producer Cameron Mackintosh, and music industry body LIVE, are taking action to force the government to publish the results of its Events Research Programme, which has allowed some large music and sporting events to go ahead with mask-wearing and proof of a negative test.

‘Pilot’ events so far include the BRIT Awards and FA Cup Final at Wembley, as well as Latitude festival and The Grange Festival in July.

Industry figures say the arts are being treated “unfairly” compared to sport, as Euro 2020 has been given the green light with preventative measures in place.

Lloyd Webber accused the government of “cherry-picking high-profile sporting events” while “forcing theatre and music companies off a cliff”.

The government has so far refused to release its findings, with many in the theatre and music sector accusing ministers of failing to release findings that might support a faster reopening of certain sectors.

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‘The situation is beyond urgent’

The composer confirmed that he rejected the government’s invitation for his new musical to be “singled out as a last-minute part of the Events Research Programme”.

By choosing to open the show at reduced capacity in line with the rules, Lloyd Webber will now run Cinderella at a loss.

The musical theatre legend previously said he would open at full capacity on 21 June and was prepared to be arrested for it. However, he later backed out and said he could not take the risk of seeing the cast, crew, orchestra and audience fined hundreds of pounds.

In his statement yesterday, Lloyd Webber added: “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 situation is beyond urgent.”

During government-run pilot events including the BRIT Awards and the clubbing test nights in Liverpool, just 15 out of 58,000 people tested positive for COVID-19. Industry figures argue these events had been “a huge success… showing that with proper precautions in place, live events at full capacity can go ahead safely.”

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‘Hundreds of millions in lost income’

Industry figures say the government has flagrantly breached the “duty of candour” which requires it to be transparent when faced with a legal challenge, and they have asked for an urgent court hearing.

Research found the delay to the easing of lockdown restrictions to 19 July will lead to 5,000 cancelled music gigs and countless cancelled theatre productions, adding up to hundreds of millions of pounds in lost income.

Producer Cameron Mackintosh makes the case for “a joint insurance scheme to protect us against another enforced closure”.

“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,” he added.

“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.”

Andrew Lloyd Webber shows restored Theatre Royal Drury Lane to Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall
Andrew Lloyd Webber shows restored Theatre Royal Drury Lane to Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. Picture: PA

‘First to close and last to reopen’

The head of the Bectu union, Philippa Childs, said: “Theatres and the live events industry were the first to close and look set to be the last to reopen.

“The flexibility shown for Euro 2020 has evidenced that where there is a will there is a way – we call on the government to stop moving the goalposts for culture and act with consistency across the economy.”

Since the delay to easing lockdown restrictions, the Musicians’ Union – alongside numerous event operators – has been urging the government to introduce events insurance and provide recovery cash to freelancers, many of whom still cannot get back to work.

The MU argues that given the positive findings from pilot events, there is no reason why festivals and other live events cannot go ahead this summer – but the industry desperately needs to see this data.

MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge says: “It is widely believed that the results of the pilot events so far have yielded positive results and it feels as if musicians, crew, promoters and producers are being treated unfairly.

“We support the action being taken by LIVE and the Theatre sector as the industry invested in the Events Research programme and it is only right that the Government now publishes the results so that we can work towards full reopening.”