You have to hand it to Lord Lloyd Webber. The musical genius who is the mastermind behind one of the biggest franchises in theatrical history may not have written Les Misérables but he is willing to man the barricades, provocatively inviting the Metropolitan Police to “come to the theatre and arrest us”.
Having re-mortgaged his home to support the brand, his Lordship is once again spitting blood and threatening to open his theatres with full capacity regardless of the risk to life and health, let alone such minor considerations as the law of the land.
As reported in the Daily Telegraph, if push comes to shove, the man formerly known as Andrew Lloyd Webber will be happy to carry out detailed in-house research for prospective future productions such as The Prisoner of Zenda, The Kiss of the Spiderwoman or perhaps a new musical version of Midnight Express.
While many might sympathise with his frustrations and the concerns of a man whose heart is undoubtedly in the right place, over-the-top rhetoric suggesting that, rather than accepting a short delay in opening Cinderella or re-opening shows in his other London theatres, a peer of the realm would prefer to go to prison sounds absurd. Having said that, another theatrical Lord did exactly that, but the former Jeffrey Archer didn’t end up stirring his Porridge as a result of a point of principle.
As the politicians keep repeating, the possibility of deferring Freedom Day from 21 June is very much on the cards. At a time when he was spouting insincere messages of “data not dates”, the Prime Minister fell into his own trap by suggesting that he would abolish coronavirus “no earlier than” 21 June. The three words prior to the date were instantly forgotten, which was inevitable and should have been foreseen by someone charged with running a country during a pandemic.
Clearly our greatest impresario did not spot the qualification, since he boldly announced that Cinderella would commence previews only four days after the “no earlier than” date. Since then, there have indisputably been more potent and transmissible new variants of the virus, which is one of the prospective impediments that were originally identified in connection with deferrals to re-opening.
It is hard to believe that anybody in the entertainment industry would not be sorry to see yet another a delay in our attempts to get a little bit closer to normality. However, if unseemly haste could put the health of workers and enthusiasts at risk, surely it would must make sense to wait until more people are vaccinated and theatres and other venues can open with the assurance that everybody will be as safe as reasonably possible.
Lord Lloyd Webber says that he has seen scientific proof that coronavirus is not spreading in theatres. These days, everyone can rent a scientist to support their views, but, if he has hard evidence, then, like Dominic Cummings, it is time to publish or be damned.
While many might regard the composer’s views as extreme and bordering on silly, it is worth repeating that the underlying message that theatres have received inadequate support from the government and still have no insurance against coronavirus cancellation remains significant and should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Further delays will prove particularly painful for many of the freelancers who have suffered terribly over the last 15 months, many having zero income from their usual sources, obliged to rely on their own and others' savings or fill-in jobs at supermarkets, delivery companies and the like.
In a recent nationwide survey of 397 theatre freelancers by the Freelancers in the Dark project, 72.4% felt pessimistic about the future, while 54.8% felt unsupported by their current or former employers. A similar percentage have changed their expectation about the sort of work that they will do in future, which should sound alarm bells for everybody in the industry.
Let us hope that this sorry fairy tale soon finds its own Prince Charming and somehow achieves an unexpectedly happy ending.