MINISTERS are aiming to have full audiences back in theatres in time for pantomime season to give city and town centres across the UK a pre-Christmas boost.
No10 has ordered officials in the Culture department to make the December target a priority to save the theatre industry.
Measures such as the 20-minute saliva tests currently being trialled and high-tech ventilation are being considered as ways of allowing theatres to operate at full capacity this Christmas.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has named the Christmas target as ‘Operation Sleeping Beauty’. It comes amid dire warnings from the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber that missing pantomime season would be the death knell for the industry.
Industry insiders said the pantomime season is so lucrative for theatres that it often pays for losses incurred by productions during the rest of the year because shows are sell-outs and performances are put together relatively cheaply.
A government source added: “It would also give families across the country a much-needed boost after what has been a pretty s*** year.”
Ministers view getting a pantomime season in this year as crucial to the wider economy as it would attract people to restaurants and bars in town centres across the UK. Insiders said getting pantos back on in time for Christmas would deliver an even bigger economic boost than the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
And like the half-price meal offer, it would help get people return to old habits such as going out. Under the plans to allow full audiences this Christmas, ticket holders would be tested in the week before the show as well as a host of other measures, including disinfectant arches at theatre entrances.
Writing in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday, Mr Dowden said: “We need to start filling seats in much larger numbers – not just for the audiences, not just for the venues and livelihoods who depend on them, but for the entire urban economy, too. Theatre is a lynchpin of London’s West End and its absence is painfully reflected in its deserted streets.”
Theatre industries have told the Government that they need at least three months’ notice to prepare performances, meaning a decision must come within days if the panto season is to run as normal.
A government insider said it was unlikely that performances would be ready to start by November but said theatres were already planning to hold a delayed pantomime season that could see performances shown through February.
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