Sold-out theatres ‘turbo-charging’ London’s West End shows after lockdown, say directors

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 (Dave Benett)
(Dave Benett)

West End directors have welcomed the return of full audiences to London’s theatres saying it has “turbo-charged” performances.

Theatres closed their doors last March and stayed shut largely for more than a year in the pandemic with gradual reopening beginning in May.

Constellations, one of the first plays to return to the West End’s reopened theatres, is now ending having played to more than 60,000 people without missing a performance even at the height of the pingdemic when shows regularly closed.

Director Michael Longhurst said he noticed the change the moment full capacity audiences were allowed back, saying: “I think audiences had learnt to be in socially distanced spaces. Thinking back to when we were rattling around theatres, we joked it was like business class with room on your side and leg room but there is something special about the cheek-by-jowl effect of being in a theatre and about how we as an audience feed back to an artist and how that happens which gets turbo-charged in a full house.”

He said he hoped the experience of putting on shows during the pandemic would “promote new models and new ways of working”.

Frozen director Michael Grandage said he had noticed a difference in the reaction of the returning audience to his blockbuster musical.

He said: “Normally you would see little kids in pieces at the end but I’ve seen far more parents in pieces and the kids looking at them slightly strangely.

“It’s a nice flip round and it’s because they have lived through this period and suddenly they are here for a wonderful moment of catharsis.

“We knew that one thing people would need is a little bit of spectacle after being locked away for 16 months. You need something that is liberating and transcendent.”

Actor Nathaniel Parker, who plays King Henry VIII in one of this year’s most anticipated shows, The Mirror and the Light, said the announcement it was extending its run by eight weeks before it has even opened was proof “audience hesitancy was dwindling”.

He said: “Everyone I speak to wants to come and I say things like, ‘I don’t know if I can get you a ticket’ and they say, ‘No, no, the theatre needs the funding, we want to pay the money, we want to get you back in there which is so heartening.

“As performers we didn’t get any subsidy at all and that was really tough, the companies did after a lot of negotiation, but all the performers were left high and dry as were all the people who wanted to come and see them because they couldn’t see them and now we’re there and the ticket sales are so good we’ve extended them which is a relief.”

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