Covid passports and nights at the theatre don't mix - Liam Rudden
Three questions for you. Would you sit through a play if you had to wear a mask throughout? Are you ready to attend a performance of your favourite musical with no social distancing?
And now the biggie. If being admitted to a production depended on audience members being in possession of a valid 'Covid passport' or 'vaccination certificate', would you feel more confident about returning to a theatre?
Having recently spent three hours or so in The Playhouse and the same again in the Royal Lyceum working on features for the News, face coverings have certainly proved no problem for me. In public buildings they’re second nature for most surely – bearing in mind some who are exempt.
Likewise, with one jag done and already counting down to my second, the opportunity to relax social distancing measures must surely be something that is seriously being considered. Taking into account it’s still likely to be another three or four months before theatres start tentatively dipping their toes back in the market, by which time those of us in the ‘at risk’ categories should have all had our second jag and be well on the way to as full protection as possible, social distancing will hopefully have become a thing of the past. Won’t it?
Most producers and venues I've spoken with have agreed on one thing, it's basically impossible to bring the spectacular musicals and big cast plays we have become accustomed to if audience numbers are restricted. Financially, it's just not viable. Small casts, therefore, could well prove to be the way forward initially. Two handers have never been more in demand and I suspect we will see a host of solo shows being programmed in venues – almost a soft launch.
This week, Original Theatre announced their spy thriller, A Splinter of Ice, will be touring to The King's in July, reopening the theatre on the 13th. It gives an indication of the times scales we are looking at for the general return of audiences. The Lyceum hopes to bring theatre-goers back to Grindlay Street in time for the Edinburgh International Festival, while the Playhouse too are looking ahead at their options.
My prediction is that, barring the arrival of a new vaccine resistant variant, most of Edinburgh's theatres will have reopened to some degree in time for Christmas. Just imagine if the annual tradition of a family trip to the panto could be a thing again.
Right now, all eyes are on London where productions are preparing to resume. There will be a lot to be learned from the West End’s experience, even New York's Broadway is casting a wary eye over how they fayre.
Closer to home, the big venues here will be watching too and for the first time since the entertainment world was wiped out by the virus, the hope appears justified, not wishful thinking.
As for that final question, well, while it might make some feel safer, a ‘Covid passport’ goes against everything theatre stands for, if audiences are restricted and theatre no longer an experience to be enjoyed by everyone, we have failed. There has to be a better solution.