December 6, 2022


Art Is Experience

Beyond the Pandemic: London’s West End readies for next act


Alastair Grant / AP

A normal view of the exterior of the Apollo Theater, on Shaftesbury Avenue, which is making preparations to continue its operate of the musical “Everybody’s Chatting About Jamie’, in London, Monday, April twelve, 2021.

LONDON — Noah Thomas observed his name in lights, and then the lights went out.

The younger actor was still in drama university when he was cast to enjoy the direct position in the London West Conclude musical “Everybody’s Chatting About Jamie.” Thomas produced his professional debut in early 2020. Weeks later, as the coronavirus pandemic washed about Britain, the city’s theaters closed.

“It was a little bit of a impolite awakening,” Thomas reported. “As the months ticked on — month 1, month two, month a few — you feel, ‘This is a whole lot larger than any of us could have predicted.’”

A lot more than a yr on, the West Conclude is preparing, with hope and apprehension, to welcome audiences back again.


Plagues, fires, war — London has survived them all. But it has in no way had a yr like this. The coronavirus has killed far more than fifteen,000 Londoners and shaken the foundations of 1 of the world’s fantastic towns. As a quickly-going mass vaccination campaign retains the promise of reopening, The Affiliated Push looks at the pandemic’s impression on London’s persons and establishments and asks what the long run may well keep.


The pandemic has devastated British theater, a environment-renowned cultural export and important financial drive.

The levels that collectively use three hundred,000 persons were purchased shut a 7 days before the region went into total lockdown in March 2020. They have remained closed for most of the last thirteen months, endangering thousands far more related work opportunities in bars, eating places and accommodations that cater to theater-goers.

“We were the very first to be closed,” producer Nica Burns reported. “And we were the last to come back again.”

Just one of people sidelined when theaters went dim was Neil Maxfield, who turned his like of musicals into a position major walking tours of London’s West Conclude, the district that is property to far more than a few dozen theaters and long-running juggernaut exhibits including “Les Miserables,” “The Lion King,” “Hamilton” and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Youngster.”

“I just like the West Conclude,” reported the energetic Maxfield, sporting the best hat that he wears on tours. “I like how vivid it is, I like how flexible it is — that combination of not just musical theater but performs as very well, and new items coming in all the time.”

But for most of the earlier yr, the West Conclude has been spookily deserted, the streets resounding to road crews and building get the job done instead than nighttime crowds.

Some question if its power will at any time return. When lockdown froze considerably of the economy, the British authorities stepped in to aid work opportunities. Numerous theater employees fell by means of the cracks as freelancers, they were not eligible for the payments specified to furloughed employees. Numerous took work opportunities as delivery motorists or retail employees some were pressured to depart London because of sky-higher rents.

“When you get instructed that you really do not apply for this kind of and this kind of authorities funding or benefit techniques, you form of feel, ’Oh wow, Okay. So I seriously did not get into this for the dollars,’” reported Thomas, whose face still adorns the Apollo Theatre marquee as Jamie, a working-course teen who goals of staying a drag queen.

But actors, the 22-yr-aged reported, “stand our ground.”

“We’re coming back again to do our work opportunities. We’re not going to give up what we do, what we’ve trained to do,” he reported.

“Everybody’s Chatting About Jamie” is established to reopen on May perhaps 20, 1 of the very first West Conclude exhibits to return once the authorities makes it possible for indoor venues to admit restricted audiences on May perhaps seventeen.

Burns, who owns the Apollo and 5 other London theaters, has invested in hand sanitizer stations, 1-way arrows and an digital ticketing system. She has had seats eradicated so mask-donning, temperature-checked viewers users can preserve a length from 1 one more. Forged and crew users will be analyzed each 48 several hours and saved apart from audiences and entrance-of-house employees.

The producer claims reopening is a “leap into the dim,” but she’s encouraged by what she observed all through a short period of time in December when theaters opened up — only to close days later for one more countrywide lockdown.

“I viewed audiences depart the theaters considerably, considerably happier than when they arrived,” Burns reported.

About a third of West Conclude theaters system to reopen in the coming weeks, but it will be a long way from normality. Significant, expensive exhibits cannot find the money for to operate at the fifty percent-ability restrict demanded by social distancing demands. The authorities is aiming to take away attendance restrictions on June 21, but may preserve them in area if the virus begins to surge once again.

Although two-thirds of British grown ups have had at minimum 1 dose of a coronavirus vaccine, the authorities is anxious about new virus variants that may resist current shots.

Even if British audiences return, U.K. theaters will have to do without having global travellers for the foreseeable long run. Theater and music companies have also lobbied, so significantly unsuccessfully, for a authorities-backed coverage software in circumstance reside gatherings have to be canceled because of COVID-19.

Julian Bird, main executive of the Modern society of London Theatre, an umbrella group, reported the sector is crying out for certainty that the authorities will comply with the reopening road map it created earlier this yr.

“People are risking dollars, they’re shelling out true dollars,” Bird reported. “And that is all at chance if the authorities alterations its intellect now.”

Those working in the sector are self-assured theaters and other cultural establishments will survive. Artists are resilient, and the authorities, soon after robust criticism, has handed out far more than 1.2 billion pounds ($ billion) in grants and loans to arts and tradition businesses.

But quite a few worry about the harm currently accomplished. Nickie Miles-Wildin, associate director of Graeae Theatre Business, which is operate by deaf and disabled artists, fears a setback for tricky-gained diversity in the theater.

“My worry with that is that it is likely going to be people far more numerous voices that we’ve lost along the way,” she reported. “That, for me, is what is likely going to be incredibly unhappy — it will still truly feel like a incredibly white, non-disabled, straight middle-course issue.”

For its millions of fans, London’s West Conclude has a unique magic, an power rivaled only by its New York competitor, Broadway. London-born actor Hiba Elchikhe, 28, who performs the title character’s most effective mate in “Everybody’s Chatting About Jamie,” is self-assured that will endure.

“Honestly, there is absolutely nothing like it,” she reported. “I’ve labored abroad. I have labored in other places. And for me, there’s absolutely nothing like actively playing your hometown. The form of buzz — leaving the theater, observing posters everywhere, the buses getting the theater posters. It seriously is electrical.

“And I really do not think that this (pandemic) is going to hinder it in any way. I feel persons are seriously craving to be
back again in theaters.”