The show is back on: London theatres, cinemas repoen

After standing empty for months, indoor entertainment venues including St Martin's Theatre can...
After standing empty for months, indoor entertainment venues including St Martin's Theatre can welcome back live audiences, though at 50% capacity to allow social distancing and with safety measures in place. Photo: Reuters
Lining up outside London's St Martin's theatre, actress Barbara Drennan eagerly awaits to see one of the first shows back in the West End as England relaxes Covid restrictions.

It has been more than a year since Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap last welcomed audiences.

"I just think there's a richness that it brings to people's lives that as much as box sets and Netflix have looked after us, there's nothing like this... and getting caught in some escapism," she said.

"And I think after the year that we've had, we all desperately need to get back to that."

After standing empty for months, indoor entertainment venues in England can now welcome back live audiences, though at 50% capacity to allow social distancing and with safety measures in place.

Describing itself as "the world’s longest-running play", murder mystery The Mousetrap, is in its 69th year, and on Monday evening was showing its 28,200th performance.

"I've always thought that it was really important symbolically that The Mousetrap re-open the West End," producer Adam Spiegel told Reuters.

"So although financially this is unsustainable for a long period of time, I made the decision that I thought it was worth doing first of all to get everyone back to work and secondly to say right the West End is open for business again."

Lockdown forced theatres to pull down their curtains in March 2020. A few briefly reopened during a temporary easing of lockdown late last year.

About a third of London theatres will reopen this week namely smaller productions with lesser costs.

Major musicals, which cannot afford to run at 50% capacity, are awaiting the final phase of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's roadmap out of lockdown - scheduled for June 21 - in order to reopen from the summer.

In New York, Broadway shows will return from mid-September.

In adapting to the new circumstances, The Mousetrap has two casts, 'Marple' and 'Poirot - named after Christie's famed characters - in case an actor should fall ill with Covid.

"The excitement is there," actor Derek Griffiths said ahead of Monday's opening. "The anxiousness is there and the hope that everything will go well."

Visitors arrive at Vue Cinema in London's Leicester Square on Monday. Photo: Reuters
Visitors arrive at Vue Cinema in London's Leicester Square on Monday. Photo: Reuters

THRILL OF SILVER SCREEN RETURNS 

Londoner Sam Poch was anticipating the thrill of the big screen lighting up as he waited on Monday to enter a cinema on Leicester Square - a once routine experience that has not been possible for months because of Covid-19 restrictions.

The 31-year-old content producer was among the first arriving to watch a film the old-fashioned way as cinemas in England reopened their doors as part of the latest stage in the government's phased lockdown relaxation plan.

"I missed it a lot. It's just the whole experience of going out, sitting down in (front of) the big screen and just the feeling of being in a cinema - it's just something I've missed for the past year," Poch told Reuters before his screening.

"I can't wait to go inside and watch a film."

Tim Richards, founder and chief executive of cinema chain Vue International, said the business was seeing bookings at levels slightly above a normal pre-Covid market, which he described as very exciting.

"We have a situation now where we're going to be having almost three years of movies in the next 12 to 18 months. So we're looking at this extraordinary period where I believe we're going to be looking at the second golden age of cinema."

Vue, rival chains Odeon and Cineworld and smaller independent cinemas were first forced to shut their doors in March last year as Britons were ordered to stay at home to stop the spread of Covid-19.

When measures eased in the summer, they reopened for a while, only to be obliged to close again months later.

"In 2020, both admissions and box office were down 75% on the previous year and we think that equates roughly to around £2 billion ($NZ3.9 billion) in lost revenue," said Phil Clapp, chief executive of the UK Cinema Association.

Now cinemas are counting on highly-anticipated films like the latest James Bond offering No Time to Die, and Marvel's Black Widow, both pushed back from 2020, to entice audiences.

"Last year, cinemas were able to open for a few months and to be honest, the lack of availability of big films meant it was always a slightly half-hearted affair," Clapp said.

"This time, I think absolutely there's an expectation this is it, and that cinema audiences will want to come back and enjoy the big screen." 

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