The National Theatre will reconfigure its Olivier auditorium to allow bigger audiences to see shows while maintaining social distancing - including a Christmas pantomime.
The new plans will turn the Olivier theatre into an in-the-round performing space, with audiences sitting around all sides of the stage. This will increase capacity to almost 500 people.
The building, which has been closed since March, is set to reopen to the public on 21 October for the first performance of the already announced Death of England: Delroy starring Giles Terera. Tickets for the production will go on sale from October 2, with over 200 tickets available for £20 for each performance.
It will be followed by the Lyric Hammersmith’s production of its 2018 pantomime Dick Whittington, created by Jude Christian and Cariad Lloyd. It will be given an update for 2020 and be directed by Ned Bennett.
The news is a positive step forward for London theatre audiences, who were facing the prospect of no family Christmas entertainment after most theatres were forced to cancel their pantomimes.
Artistic director Rufus Norris said the National Theatre was “both delighted and relieved” to be reopening with a season of in-the-round work.
He said: “Pantomime is an essential part of the living fabric of our nation, and it is devastating that so many theatres across the country have had no choice but to postpone their pantos this year because of the unprecedented financial impact of Coronavirus.
“We’ll do all we can to keep the flame alive: brilliant theatre artists will serve up a slice of joy to families on the South Bank, and we’ll be asking everyone to support their local theatres by booking ahead for their 2021 pantomimes. Of course, we hope that it will be possible for theatres to perform safely to fuller audiences long before then.”
Audiences attending performances will have to observe safety measures including wearing face masks, staggered arrival times and buying tickets with social bubbles.