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One Year Without Theatre: 10 Things We Have Learned

525,600 minutes. How do you measure a year?

Not in trips to the theatre I hope or it would be a very long and quiet year!

Today marks one year since theatres in the West End were forced to close due to the pandemic, several days after Broadway did the same. None of us knew how long these closures would last and expected we'd all be back in the theatre in a few weeks. Boy, were we wrong.

Back in June, I wrote about what we had learned in the 100 days since the West End closed. And here we are 265 days later marking a sombre anniversary. With that in mind, I have decided to rewrite that post from last summer - some of the points from the original post still stand and some have a lot more to be said.

Here are 10 things we have learned about theatre in the last year:


We may not have been able to see shows as freely as we would have liked, but the show really must go on - and on they have, in many new and untested ways.

If theatres could reopen, they did following whatever rules they needed to.

When shows were only able to perform outdoors, Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park created a whole new season of socially distanced shows, bringing back Jesus Christ Superstar quicker than Boris Johnson can say "Alas".

New outdoor spaces were created including the beer garden of a gay pub in Vauxhall creatively turned into The Garden Theatre, hosting shows including Fanny & Stella and Pippin and even a jetty in Battersea transformed into the temporary home of the Turbine Theatre last summer. The Barn Theatre took themselves outside for BarnFest while The New Normal festival was held in London to stage shows including The Showstoppers.

A new medium of theatre was born with The Drive In. West End Musical Drive In hosted a series of concerts from stars of musical theatre, providing fans a much needed dose of of magic.

When indoor performances were able to resume, the new Troubadour Theatre in Wembley was first to adapt to the new normal, staging a limited run of Sleepless. A pilot concert from Beverley Knight at the London Palladium proved to the Government, media and audiences that theatre was safe and led to the venue re-opening for a short lived panto season.

Many theatres remained closed as staging a show not at full capacity made no commercial sense to them. Others chose to stage shows at a reduced capacity, even if they were only just breaking even. Nimax were at the forefront of this, re-opening Everybody's Talking About Jamie, Six and The Play That Goes Wrong while staging concerts at their other venues.

We even got the return of a West End heavyweight as Les Miserables came back for another run of its all star concert... even if that only lasted for one week.

What all this proved was that given any circumstance, theatres will find a way to come back. And if they are not allowed to be open, the theatre can come to you.


Thankfully we haven't gone without theatre in the past year due to virtual productions. Over the past year, thousands of plays, musicals, events and concerts have taken place, pushing the capabilities of what an online production can do.

It all started with The Shows Must Go On wheeling out some absolute classics including Cats, The Phantom of the Opera and Hairspray every Friday at 7pm. It became a bit of a tradition for us all to gather on the sofa and watch these shows - at the time it was the only connection to theatre we could have. National Theatre started streaming their past titles and the online boom continued.

One of the biggest shows in the world even got in on the act with Hamilton premiering on Disney+, 15 months before it was due to be released in cinema. Bringing a show like that to the masses around the world was a complete game-changer - and miraculously, it didn't lose too much from not being in the venue watching it. In some ways, it was even better.

Speaking of game-changers, it was the creation of brand new titles with the sole purpose of being streamed online that really started changing things. These trickled through slowly at first with concerts such as Take Me To The World celebrating Stephen Sondheim, and Lambert Jacksons Leave A Light On concerts where West End stars would stream a concert live from their living room.

When LJProds streamed a virtual production of The Last Five Years, it changed everything. Suddenly we were all looking forward to what would come next. Through First Date, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, the upcoming BKLYN we were spoiled with amazing content. Their version of Songs For A New World even made the leap to the real stage, playing for audiences at the Palladium inbetween lockdowns.

New streaming platforms were created including playing host to many premieres, and Thespie bringing them all in one easy place as well as creating their own content including the brilliant Reunited series.

The Theatre Cafe were used to being a hub for fans and performers alike. When they were forced to close, they kept that hub alive, being responsible for such fantastic series including The Theatre Channel and Sunday Night Live at The Theatre Cafe, while Southwark Playhouse kept the streaming content coming with shows such as Before/After, Fiver, Public Domain.

Other shows adapted their plans with the changing regulations with Hope Mill Theatre bringing their spectacular production of RENT online, and The Sorcerer's Apprentice taking the news of another lockdown in its stride, effortlessly moving from a live audience to a filmed production.

The wealth of titles that have been made available over the past twelve months has been the only positive aspect of theatre closure. Through this I have discovered a variety of shows I might never have watched otherwise as well as some musical theatre performers I wasn't aware of before. When theatres do return, I hope there is room for online theatre to continue.


When some of the most creative people the country has to offer are unable to display their talents on stage, they get creative and ensure the show must go on in any form they can manage.

With online theatre being the new normal, creativity got pushed to its limits with some productions bordering on sheer genius. More and more became possible as virtual productions became widespread and well received. Suddenly, these titles became a hybrid of a musical and a movie. Curve Leicester really stepped things up with their breathtakingly unique production of Sunset Boulevard, immersing us into the world. And things got even more immersive with The Barn Theatre and Ryan Carter's genius choose your own The Secret Society of Leading Ladies concert.

The stars of the stage have also kept up the connection with their supporters, more so than before lockdown. Oscar Conlon-Morrey's hilarious videos on Twitter or the surge in Cameo where you can get a personal message or song from your fave and also support them in this challenging time. A musical based on Ratatouille was even created based on a TikTok trend, culminating in a streamed concert.

It's been heartwarming to see that while the industry struggles, creativity thrives.


When you sit in a packed house in the theatre to see an award winning show starring some of the worlds finest, it seems like an untouchable industry - something we have all known all of our life and probably took for granted way too much.

I don't think anybody realised how quickly it could all fall apart. Several theatres announced they are at risk of closure and made their staff redundant. Other venues went into administration while Birmingham Hippodrome are also looking at redundancies.

With no income coming in and ticket cancellations taking every last penny away from the industry, it has been an incredibly challenging time - the theatres we love so much are far more vulnerable than I had ever realised , and the thought not all of them will be able to reopen when it is safe to do so is heartbreaking.


The way the government have treated the arts in general has been shocking. They have stepped in to support other struggling industries but the arts have been seriously neglected, hardly being mentioned at all in Parliament and daily briefings. Actors such as Marisha Wallace commented on live TV it's like they think it's a hobby when in actual fact it is a career. So why did they think it's ok to treat it lesser than other industries?

Eventually, they did announce a scheme to support the Arts but it all felt like too little too late and not every venue received the support it so desperately needed. With so many self-employed people working in the industry, they have been left with little to no financial support.

The, quite frankly, insulting campaign about people in the Arts retraining (Fatima's next job could be in Cyber) was a kick in the teeth to everybody who puts their blood, sweat and tears into their performance. To be told, they are not viable was a phrase that will haunt us theatre lovers until the day we retrain in Cyber.

It's been incredibly frustrating and disheartening to witness their lack of empathy and concern - especially in comparison to how much they have put behind sport. If only they realised how crucial theatre is to our mental health and quality of life.

Thankfully, theatre fans are far more compassionate raising huge amounts of money for places such as Acting For Others with campaigns such as Theatre Support Fund's amazing The Shows Must Go On merchandise.


Theatres being closed allowed us all to take the opportunity to focus on issues that didn't always get the attention they should have - namely inclusivity in the Arts.

For an industry that talks about important issues such as racism, sexuality and disability in its shows, it doesnt always practice what it preaches.

After the tragic events of George Floyd last year led to a massive increase in awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement, the lack of people of colour in productions both on stage and behind the scenes was called out. The need to do better was very much apparent. The Turn Up! concert and Thespie's recent The Road to Prominence concert have helped move on the conversation but there is still so much work to be done to ensure true diversity in theatre.

While theatre has always seemed like an LGBTQ+ friendly industry due to the sheer amount of people from that group who work in it, it doesn't always get it right. The last year saw the debate of whether only gay men should be allowed to play gay characters and if a trans character should be played with a trans person. While more of a movie than theatre, James Corden's "choice" of a performance in The Prom was a real talking point. This doesn't just extend to sexuality or gender identity. Disability is another issue with disabled characters being played by able-bodied actors. Formerly relevant singer Sia proved just how high up issues like this stretch with her tone-deaf, offensive and unwatchable move Music.

It is good to have these conversations. We have come a long way in a short space of time, but having this time to talk about the issues in depth over the past year will hopefully lead to real change and progress. My hope is when theatres do open their doors again, it will be a more thoughtful and truly inclusive place as everybody deserves to see themselves reflected on the stage and everybody seserves to feel like they belong.


People employed in theatre and theatre fans alike are both highly vocal (Literally in the singers cases) so you can bet we're not going to sit down and be silenced. A petition urging the government to give more support to the arts gathered nearly 180,000 signatures and was debated in Parliament while peaceful protests andmarches were organised. While the Government would have loved us to sit down and shut up, that never happened.

The government might not see the importance of theatre in the country but, thankfully, hundreds of thousands if not millions of people do. With us all using our voices to pledge our support, it creates power and hopefully influence the future of the industry.


We have all been through something life-changing. It has been a long, hard year but I truly believe it will do us a lot of good in the long run. While we hope for a return to normality, will everything ever be truly normal again? Will we go back to exactly how we were? I hope not.

I hope we take this time of reflection, tragedy and awful loss to change ourselves, our world views and our industry for the better.

I hope we never take for granted how special theatre is - whether we go once a year, once a month, once a week or twice a day! Every time we set foot in one, we need to hold our heart and remind ourselves how lucky we are.

I hope people have better theatre etiquette too and don't talk through a show while incredible talents are leaving their heart on the stage in front of us - I fear that might be asking too much though. Never to fear, I long for the day I can dust off my trusty death stare.


Theatres have closed three times in the last twelve months. Three times!

Closing in March for Lockdown 1, gradually re-opening in the summer only to be closed again in November 2 for Lockdown 2: The Tories Strike Back. When things finally felt like they were getting back to normal, Tier 2 became Tier 3 and Tier 3 became Tier 4 and so on and so on, meaning some huge shows shut for the third time ahead of Lockdown 3: Return of the Covid-deniers. Sadly, these shows are still not open.

365 days ago, West End theatres closed their doors. Some have not re-opened at all since. The truth is there is still a while to go before everything fully re-opens.

Shows are allowed to return with social distancing from May 17th with shows including The Prince of Egypt, Les Miserables and Everybody's Talking About Jamie opening their doors for audiences as soon as they are able to.

The Government has said from June 21st at the earliest, shows may be able to return with no social distancing at all. There is no comfirmation this will happen though. With shows like Frozen and Back To The Future setting their new opening dates for August, that may be a more likely date when everything can reopen with no social distancing but we will all have to wait and see.

Other countries that don't have Boris Johnson in charge are already returning to a more normal life with shows returning in countries including Australia, Israel and South Korea so there's hope to be had.

My thoughts are with all the cast, crew and shows who have been dark on the West End, Broadway and everywhere between for the last 365 days.

One thing is for sure though - we WILL be back. It doesn't matter what you throw at theatre, it will return bigger and better than ever.

While it might be tough now, remember this is only the interval and we all know from experience, when Act 2 starts it is going to be even bigger and better than Act 1.

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