Although it’s fair to say he’s not often found himself at the bleeding edge of cool, Andrew Lloyd Webber established himself as something of a lockdown hero last year, with his genuinely valiant efforts to covid-proof his venues leading the way for the entire live entertainments industry.
However, he’s also made it pretty clear that he thinks his venues are so covid-proof that any delay beyond June 21 to the full reopening of theatres – currently they can only sell half the house – is outrageous, and has been pretty vocally grumpy about the constant delays to his new musical ‘Cinderella’. Co-written with ‘Promising Young Woman’ and ‘Killing Eve’ scribe Emerald Fennell, it’s is due to start previews June 25 at full capacity. If social distancing is dropped on June 21, there's no problem. If there’s a delay due to the rise of the new Delta variant of coronavirus then legally it won’t be able to run with more than half the seats.
Well, in a new interview with The Daily Telegraph, Lloyd Webber has gone a step further and declared that ‘we are going to open come hell or high water’ and that if the government has a problem with this, ‘we will say: come to the theatre and arrest us’.
Is he onto something? Errrrrr… probably not. Lloyd Webber argues that scientific evidence has shown that his theatres – which he has lavished huge amount money on upgrading – are ‘completely safe’, and that he will ‘have the mother of all legal cases’ against the government if ‘Cinderella’ is banned from opening on time.
But even if he’s right on the safety issue, it doesn’t seem likely that a nationwide delay to full reopening could reasonably exempt the theatres of Andrew Lloyd Webber just because they now have self-sterilising door handles. There would be an outcry from literally everyone else who hadn’t been allowed to open.
Furthermore, there is the question over whether ‘Cinderella’ audiences would be willing to break the law, and whether Lloyd Webber’s younger cast and collaborators would be comfortable with ploughing ahead illegally.
It’s also worth saying that the Lord hardly speaks for the whole industry: most theatres have contingency plans to run with social distancing for a few months extra if need be; the next two big West End musicals, ‘Frozen’ and ‘Back to the Future’, don’t open until the autumn, when a much higher proportion of the population will have been vaccinated.
Ultimately it’s hard to see it as much more than fighting talk, especially if we’re talking about something like a two-week delay to full theatre reopening – the man’s surely not going to do bird over a fortnight’s extra social distancing (it may, of course, be longer).
Still, if we can’t have our theatres back at full strength come June 21, there’s no denying that a massive legal barney between Andrew Lloyd Webber and the British government would go some way to making up for the loss of drama.
‘Cinderella’ runs at the Gillian Lynne Theatre from June 25 (in theory, anyway)