Theatre director calls for change to ‘unworkable’ 1m on-stage distancing rule

·3-min read

A leading theatre director has called on the Scottish Government to change the one-metre distancing rule for the stage, warning it is making some shows “unworkable”.

Matthew Lenton, artistic director of Vanishing Point, has called for “urgent clarity” on the situation as the company faces cancelling one major project with another under threat.

Vanishing Point’s 2020 Scotland-wide tour of its critically-acclaimed version of The Metamorphosis was cut short by the first Covid lockdown last year and it is now considering whether to cancel the 2022 Scottish tour as the show depends on actors and crew being in close proximity.

Mr Lenton has written to Scottish Culture Secretary Angus Robertson and culture minister Jenny Gilruth urging them to reassess the rule.

He wrote: “The show was created pre-Covid and depends on actors and crew being in close proximity. It contains illusions and effects for example, which involve performers moving quickly, passing things to each other (presumably with 1m distancing this is not allowed, but not clear in the rules), setting and removing black covers and completing fast costume changes that require physical help.

“The entire show is built precisely around the intricacies of these things – an absurd and complex set of actions backstage to create a beautiful illusion for the audience.

“To change this would not only damage the entire artistic impression of the show (forcing it in fact to change so much that it would no longer be the same show), but cost much, much more in extra rehearsals, set adjustments and so on.

“But nevertheless, we need to decide: Do we cancel the spring 22 tour of this show? Or is the rule likely to change?”

Vanishing Point is also due to perform a separate show at a major theatre in London next year and is planning to rehearse and preview the production in Scotland.

It warned the participation of Scottish acting and creative talent is now seriously under threat as a consequence of the different rules in Scotland and England – where there are no on-stage distancing rules.

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Mr Lenton said moving rehearsals to London would inflate costs so much that they could barely justify hiring Scotland-based actors and technicians, but “it would seem absurd to have to hire actors and production teams in London instead, depriving freelance workers in Scotland of employment”.

The director also said it is “extremely hard” to level the on-stage distancing rule against those in other sectors such as nightclubs where there is no distancing requirement, and called for clarity about the future.

He said: “It is crucial that there is urgent clarity. Does the Scottish Government see the future of live, mid/post pandemic performance as modest, small-scale, local/national until things grow and evolve again?

“This could be exciting though it will mean the end of larger-scale, more technically ambitious work like the Metamorphosis and many others.

“But if that is the Scottish Government’s intention, if it is the brave new world, we need to know so that we can abandon plans, discard unworkable shows and avoid potentially huge financial loss.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government understands how deeply the cultural sector has been affected by Covid-19.

“We have been engaging with the cultural and performing arts sector on this and other matters relating to the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are listening to their concerns and we are quickly reviewing the regulations with a view to ensuring their needs are met while balancing the risk to public health.”

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