But yesterday, Boris Johnson offered some of the certainty that we've been crying out for since Christmas's last-minute lockdown. Here are some quick but satisfying takeaways.
👉 Trials of safety measures will take place in April
Boris Johnson has said that mass-testing is the way forward for entertainment venues. Pilot events this spring will explore whether lateral flow tests for audiences could put an end to social distancing, which would be wonderful news for theatres' finances (but less good for lovers of leg room).
👉 Drive-in shows could be allowed from April 12th
Yup, it's an offbeat way to experience the artform you love, but wouldn't it be lovely to tell your future grandchildren that you survived the pandemic by watching Horrible Histories in a car park?
👉 Indoor and outdoor theatre could start from May 17th
Indoor theatres will have to abide by capacity limits of 50% or 1,000, whichever is lower. Outdoor performances will be limited to 50% capacity or 4,000 people. But as ever, the devil is in the detail. The government plans to confirm this date with as little as a week's notice, meaning that cautious theatres won't gamble their resources on a May opening.
👉 Social distancing could end from June 21st
Just a month later, venues could operate at full capacity. This will be the rule change many theatres are waiting for: no one wants to go to the trouble putting of social distancing in place, only to scrap it after just a month. But not all venues will throw their doors open in June; the biggest theatres have the most to lose, so they'll plan for August, September or October.
👉 This is a safer and more cautious route back to normal
Boris Johnson says that his watchword is "data, not dates", which means that rule changes will be rolled out gradually. Hopefully, this will minimise the risk of the backtracking that caused the theatre industry so much pain last year. Four conditions must be satisfied for each lifting of restrictions to go ahead:
1)The vaccine rollout must be going to plan
2)The vaccine must be reducing numbers of serious cases and deaths
3)Infection rates must be low enough not to risk a surge in hospital admissions
4)The government must be satisfied that new variants aren't increasing the risk of lifting restrictions
👉 Boris is (slowly) starting to listen to theatre leaders
This is the first time that theatre reopening dates have been pegged to those of indoor hospitality and mass sporting events, suggesting that the government now sees theatre as a priority, not an afterthought. But there's still quite a bit more listening to do; in particular, the government hasn't so far responded to theatre industry leaders' demands for an insurance scheme, to underwrite any gambles they might take on reopening.
By now, it should be clear that we can't expect the UK's theatres to simultaneously throw open their doors on May 17th, as a chorus of angels sing 'Seasons of Love', confetti canons erupt, and Judi Dench tap-dances through theatreland's streets.
What we're looking at is a bit more tentative, and that's a good thing. Smaller theatres and producers will be able to be nimble, ready to open up first in response to rule changes. Bigger venues will be more cautious. But in rehearsal studios and living rooms across the country, people are laying plans to lift the curtain on live theatre events this summer, and we couldn't be more excited.
Until next week,
Quotes of the Week
“What we can’t do is plan for something to open in May but not be given a guarantee until the week beforehand. We’ve got stuff in the fridge, but we will need some kind of certainty a month before.”
"I was badly bullied before I left Ireland. I was an odd kid, in a country school, wanting to become an actress. It made me lonely – and I’m so damned grateful for that... because the prison of being conventional was not available to me."