Performers hail ‘sleeping giant’ as West End welcomes back audiences

Shane Richie hailed the West End as a “sleeping giant” finally waking, as theatreland reopened to audiences on Monday.

The actor, who is starring in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at the Apollo Theatre, was among the famous faces who gathered in the London area as Government restrictions were eased.

Limited audiences returned to theatres, sports stadiums and music venues, many for the first time this year, as England entered stage 3 of the road map out of lockdown.

Benidorm Is 10 Photocall – London
Shane Richie (Matt Crossick/PA)

Comedian and stage star Richie, 57, told the PA news agency there was “magic in the air”.

He said: “It feels like we have been trying to wake a sleeping giant for the last few months.

“Everybody has managed to navigate their way around lockdown and isolation and Covid testing, and finally today is the day the giant finally comes awake, albeit all very slowly at the moment.

“But it is slowly happening. It is lowly cranking its way up. There are a lot of performers out and about on the streets. I can see a few buskers and street entertainers coming back as well.

“The West End is really important, not just for myself and the shows but businesses, small cafes, restaurants, bars – everybody who lives and breathes and works in the West End.

London theatres
The Apollo Theatre in London (Luciana Guerra/PA)

“So today is a bit special. It really feels like there is a bit of magic in the air.”

Noah Thomas, who plays the lead role of Jamie, a schoolboy who has dreams of becoming a drag queen, said there was both excitement and trepidation among the cast.

He said: “It is getting back to work but it also the anticipation of you don’t know how people are going to react. It is so many people’s first time they will be seeing (the show).

“It almost feels like something brand new, something that has never been done before, which is an exciting thing. It is what theatre should feel like.

“It should feel like it is fresh and spontaneous. It is a whole mix of things but ultimately it is that anticipation that has made us so excited.”

Thomas dismissed the idea a socially distanced auditorium would affect the show.

He said: “It still feels full. People still laugh the same, people still react the same and people still get up on their feet at the end.”

Ros Morgan, chief executive of the Heart of London Business Alliance, noted that many theatres remained shuttered in the West End.

She called for further support, saying: “I think we are fortunate that some of the theatres have the financial backing to be able to be opening.

“But they are incredibly fortunate. Not all of them can do that.

“Even when they open they are going to continue to need financial support and as much as we can’t wait to welcome our domestic visitors back, I think we are looking ahead to our international visitors who make up a large proportion of visitors to the West End.”