No singalongs and mandatory face masks were just two rules for fans on Thursday as singer Beverley Knight performed one of the UK’s first post-lockdown, socially distant lockdown music shows.
The soul singer took to the stage at the London Palladium as part of a series of pilot performances to test the "new normal" at UK theatres, as lockdown is eased during the coronavirus pandemic.
Audience members were assigned staggered arrival times, and seated sparsely across the theatre, with some rows left completely empty.
Face masks had to be worn throughout the performance and track and trace forms were completed by everyone attending.
Theatre mogul Andrew Lloyd Webber introduced the unique occasion. He told the audience: “I have to say this is a rather sad sight. I’m so grateful to you all for coming and being a sort of guinea pig like this.
“But the Palladium is meant to be full, it’s a theatre that wants to love you, and it seems sad.”
“I think this will amply prove why social distancing in theatre doesn’t work,” Lloyd Webber added.
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“It’s a misery for the performers I know and thank you Beverley for being so brave as to do this.”
Lloyd Webber said the venue had adopted measures pioneered in South Korea and used fogging machines effective on the virus for up to four weeks.
He praised culture secretary Oliver Dowden for “trying to do his best” during this “difficult time” but called on the government to set a date for theatre’s return.
He said: “We must, must get the regional theatres open so I would say one thing to Boris, and just say: ‘Give us a date mate’.”
Knight took to the stage wearing a dazzling bodysuit.
She urged the audience to stand, dance and clap along, but reminded them not to sing along.
Government guidance has designated singing, as well as playing wind and brass instruments, as “higher risk” activities.
Theatre writer Matt Hemley was at the show. He said: “What an afternoon - a proper historic moment being at the Palladium. I choked up when Lloyd Webber welcomed us, I shed actual tears when Beverley Knight sang Memory. The theatre was open, people were in it and it was a joy!”
Keen theatregoer Natalie Edwards said the performance was “wonderful and heartbreaking at the same time”. She went on to praise staff and crew for a “seamless” show.
She said: “Everything has been so smooth and seamless today and clear guidance from signs and staff. I didnt feel unsafe.
“The problem will be making a socially distanced theatre financially viable and atmospheric. I can’t wait for the day when every seat is filled once more.”
Speaking after the performance, Rebecca Kane Burton, chief executive of LW Theatres – the venue’s owner – said it was a “relief” to reopen the doors.
She added: “I want to get this place back open, no social distancing.
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