While everyone involved in the theatre will be hoping that Boris Johnson’s fantasy, which imagines that coronavirus will end overnight on 21 June, proves to be correct, some might have doubts.
It would mean that all theatres can open with 100% capacity from that day and everybody will be safe without the need for tedious testing or suffocating masks. However, Mr Johnson is hardly a reliable witness, given that in Parliament he doesn’t even attempt to deny accusations of lying, preferring to raise his voice and change the subject.
The global climate does not look promising. While the UK is currently in a welcome lull, the pandemic is raging in India, Brazil and, to a lesser extent, Europe and the USA. Opening up our borders presents a severe risk, while abandoning social distancing and returning to the heady behaviour of 2019 in mid-June might also be premature.
Already, alarm bells should be ringing for the theatre industry, particularly the producers of big-budget productions in the West End and the subsidised sector. It seems safe to assume that this summer, as near as makes no difference, there will be no tourists buying theatre tickets. Since they typically make up a significant proportion of any audience, this will alter the commercial dynamics for the big producers.
The abandonment of offices is another trend that will have consequences. This could work in both directions. Some regional theatres in commuter towns could benefit, since workers who would normally have been unable to get home in time to see a show at their local venue can do so. The corollary is that those who had previously worked in city locations five days a week may be doing so much less often. As a result, they will find going to a city centre theatre more of a chore.
There also seems to be a general view that people are working longer hours from home and this could be another negative factor. More positively, since fewer people will be taking holidays overseas and many have hardly spent any money on luxuries in the last year, there should be pent-up cash in the economy waiting to be spent on theatre tickets.
The fear factor could also come into play. While producers who drive around in chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royces and the like might happily assume that life is back to normal, the average punter who needs to get a packed tube train to a theatre during the rush-hour and another (admittedly quieter) one home late at night may well regard this as too big a risk.
Those who have been comforted by the idea of social distancing could freak out at the prospect of being obliged to spend a couple of hours in a theatre shoulder to shoulder with strangers, either with or without masks.
Where does this leave us? We haven’t a clue. That is part of the problem. Without wishing to get overly repetitive, the other risk that theatres face is the prospect of closure when pandemic levels rise again and, on a simpler level, an actor gets sick and the whole company is forced to self-isolate.
In such circumstances, theatres will lose even more money that they do not have. Given that the government repeatedly ignores requests from across the leisure sector for insurance cover, there is no solution. We already know that most UK festivals have given up on 2021 for this reason and theatres should be similarly cautious.
Then again, perhaps the wizard Johnson will wave his magic wand and cure coronavirus overnight. Sadly, that kind of illusion only happens in third-rate musicals and the minds of deluded madmen.