The latest iteration of the lockdown rules laid down by HM Government for England seems guaranteed to increase the amount of doubt and uncertainty, though that is quite achievement given what has gone before.
As most readers will know, there are new rules coming in from 2 December. Rather than reverting to an arrangement that we all vaguely understood, new plans are afoot.
Oddly, given that nothing has changed beyond a dramatic increase in the prevalence of the virus, the rules for theatres might now be significantly different, although the position is not wholly clear. That was putting it politely. They are totally contradictory at the moment.
To start with, it is necessary to ascertain the location of your venue. If you are in Tier 3, then performances are not going to be permitted for the foreseeable future. Realistically, this means at least until the New Year, of which more later. At the moment, this tier covers the vast majority of the North East, North West, Yorkshire and the East and West Midlands as well as Kent and much of the South West.
For those in Tiers 1 and 2, the good news is that theatres can open relatively normally, at least given recent experience. Tier 1 is practically non-existent, while Tier 2 includes most of the south of the country, as one might expect with a government that keeps telling as it is determined to achieve “levelling up”.
There is also a possibility that the new rules will help theatre owners to lose less money on their productions. The starting point is a statement at the top of the guidance that we should remember “Hands. Face. Space” i.e. 'social distancing', which means staying 2m apart from anyone outside your household or 1m with extra precautions such as masks.
As we established six months or more ago, this means that theatres can run at about 30% of capacity. Let us use the London Palladium as an example. This has a capacity of around 2,000 people meaning that no more than 600 to 700 could attend any performance.
The confusion comes further into the guidance where it is stated that venues in Tier 2, which specifically includes theatres, can operate on the following basis:
public attendance at outdoor and indoor events (performances and shows) is permitted, limited to whichever is lower: 50% capacity, or either 2,000 people outdoors or 1,000 people indoors
Reverting to the London Palladium, using this calculation, it would be possible for the venue to welcome an audience of 1,000 people.
To pour oil on troubled waters, someone might unkindly observe that if you fancy holding a wedding at the London Palladium, the attendance will be limited to 15 people, including the bride and groom.
If anyone is looking for logic, they had better go elsewhere. Presumably the powers that be at all theatres in Tiers 1 and 2 will be seeking urgent clarification, if they intend to open.
There are many other problems to overcome. In particular, if the last tiered lockdown is anything to go by, regions will be moving in and out of tiers on a constant basis. This is a recipe for disaster when it comes to uninsured theatrical productions, since a producer could announce, sell tickets, rehearse and then find him or herself in Tier 3 by midnight, which is effectively what happened to the National Theatre last month.
This story has a long way to run and, given the relatively lax regulations that are to run between now and Christmas followed by five days of yuletide 'freedom', the chances are that theatre lovers in the south (and Liverpool) should make the most of current opportunities, since there has to be a strong possibility that no theatre outings will be possible during the first quarter of 2021, while we all pay the price.