Theatre reassures fans of ‘distancing between bubbles’ amid uproar over London Palladium audience

14 October 2020, 14:10

Theatre reassures fans of ‘distancing between bubbles’ amid London Palladium uproar
Theatre reassures fans of ‘distancing between bubbles’ amid London Palladium uproar. Picture: Anthony Kerr/Twitter

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theatre company has sought to reassure fans of safety measures taken at the Palladium, following anger over photos of a “packed” auditorium.

A theatre is battling with a row over social distancing, after photos of audiences at Sunday and Monday night’s performances caused a commotion on Twitter.

Theatre critic Mark Shenton, who attended the London Palladium on Sunday for a showing of Jason Robert Brown’s 1995 musical Songs for a New World, tweeted that he did not think “social distancing was complied with”.

A photo he posted of the auditorium has since gone viral, prompting similar shots to be shared with outrage across the platform.

Read more: Culture secretary says artists should ‘hang on in there for as long as they can’ >

But LW Theatres, a subsidiary of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theatre group which owns the Palladium, said rigorous measures were taken to ensure audience safety, including one-metre distancing between bubbles.

CEO Rebecca Kane Burton tweeted: “Let me be very clear. Social distancing was & is at the heart of all planning of [our] events. We spent tens of thousands of pounds reconfiguring the Stalls to achieve 1m distance front to back & between bubbles.”

Similar photos of the auditorium, taken during a Q&A with Arsene Wenger on Monday, have been shared by TV personality Piers Morgan and football fans who questioned why, if theatre can operate with a live audience, stadiums are still closed to fans.

Piers Morgan tweeted he was “completely bemused” by the photo, asking: “How can the London Palladium be packed like this last night for an event with Arsene Wenger, but football fans aren’t allowed to watch matches outside even socially distanced?”

Read more: The UK government’s latest guidance for rehearsals, concerts and live music venues >

LW confirms the 2,200-capacity theatre was “operating at around 50 percent capacity” and had the support of public health officials, DCMS and Westminster Council.

Critic Mark Shenton also spoke in a later tweet about additional safety measures at the theatre, including temperature checks, a one-way system, mandatory face coverings and a “bar service entirely by seat delivery”.

Jamie Lambert, chief executive of the production company behind Sunday’s musical, said LW Theatres put a “titanic amount of work and money” into creating a COVID-19 secure environment, adding that Lloyd Webber’s company “worked hard with local authorities to create a seating plan which was financially viable”.

Lambert continued: “The misinformation and inflammable tweets posted yesterday have caused damage to the reopening of our theatres.

“One picture in particular has been quote-tweeted multiple times by people who aren’t even industry-related, further spreading misinformation.”

Other audience members, however, considered the measures taken to be adequate.

Theatre blogger Sarah McPartlan posted a photo showing white sheets on chairs where audience members could not sit.

“There have been photos shared that do make it look like the auditorium was rammed,” she writes. “Let me assure you that was not the case. I felt like I was quite far from anyone else in the audience.”

Since early on in the pandemic, Lloyd Webber has fought staunchly to find ways for live theatre to return safely, with the least possible reduction in audience numbers to ensure theatres can operate in a financially viable way.

Andrew Lloyd Webber has sought to prove theatres can reopen
Andrew Lloyd Webber has sought to prove theatres can reopen. Picture: PA

Government guidelines state theatres should “ensure appropriate social distancing”, adding: “Where you cannot stay 2m apart you should stay more than 1m apart, as well as taking extra steps to stay safe.”

Extra steps include masks and good ventilation.

Similarly, guidance from the Society of London Theatres says: “Wherever possible you should keep people 2m apart. If this is not viable, keeping 1m apart with robust risk mitigation is acceptable.”