Andrew Lloyd Webber: We are at the point of no return

The arts are at the “point of no return” following damage from the pandemic, Andrew Lloyd Webber has said.

The composer and theatre impresario told MPs that it would be economically “impossible” to run theatres with social distancing.

He spent £100,000 on a pilot project, trialling measures at the London Palladium, in the hope that it could allow the theatre business to get up and running.

He had hoped to show that theatres can open at full capacity safely.

Lord Lloyd-Webber told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee: “We simply have to get our arts sector back open and running. We are at the point of no return really.”

Screengrab from Parliament TV of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Rebecca Kane Burton, Chief Executive of LW Theatres, appearing by video link at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee
Screengrab from Parliament TV of Lord Lloyd-Webber and Rebecca Kane Burton, Chief Executive of LW Theatres, appearing by video link at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (Parliament TV/PA)

He said: “There comes a point now when we really can’t go on much more.

“Theatre is an incredibly labour-intensive business. In many ways putting on a show now is almost a labour of love.

“Very few shows hit the jackpot in the way a Hamilton, Lion King or Phantom Of The Opera do.”

He added that theatre productions are “not like cinema, you can’t just open the building”.

Lord Lloyd-Webber is confident the air inside his theatres is cleaner than it is outside.

“I am absolutely confident that the air in the London Palladium and in all my theatres is purer than the air outside.”

His production of Cinderella might have to open “where people are being a little more helpful”, he said.

Rebecca Kane Burton, chief executive of LW Theatres (Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theatres), said: “We don’t want to open theatres on a socially distanced basis. I have no intention of opening buildings at 30% capacity.”

She said recent months had been “devastating and catastrophic” for the sector.

“It’s a really bad, catastrophic time and we need to find a way out of it,” she said.

“It was disheartening that the pilot wasn’t later seen as a way to getting full reopening,” she said.

“There was a nervousness about pubs opening and wanting to see what the impact of that was,” she added of the possible reasons why the purpose behind the pilot changed.

“We need the time to plan. We can’t switch on theatre like a tap. Christmas is hanging on the balance as we speak.”

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