Today was a milestone moment for live theatre, as Beverley Knight took to the stage of the London Palladium, to perform to the first live audience in a London theatre since the historic decision to close theatres on 16 March this year.
Two of our team here at Official London Theatre were lucky enough to go along and experience London’s first live indoor theatre in over four months.
Andrew Lloyd Webber gave a speech at the beginning of the event, telling Beverley she was brave to come on to such an empty auditorium, acknowledging that a socially distanced audience is a bit of a “sad sight” for those who love the shared experience of live theatre.
He also said he wanted to stress the importance of the work they’ve been doing for all theatres, saying:
“The measures that we’ve taken at the Palladium are not just about getting the London Palladium open, it’s nothing to do with that. It’s about my passion for the theatre and for live entertainment all over the country, all over the world.
“Up there, I can see the seat I sat in the first time I ever saw anything in live theatre which was the Palladium Pantomime when I was about seven and it’s one of those experiences that you cannot ever eradicate. Theatre is my life and its the one thing that I feel I can do is to give something back to the profession that has been so good to me.”
He spoke about how they have looked to Korea – who are ahead of us in their recovery from the coronavirus crisis – saying that as theatres were being locked down in the UK, Phantom Of The Opera was just re-opening in Seoul.
He also spoke about the long lead time that theatre will need to get up and running – weeks for ongoing shows and months for new shows – and urged again that the Government assists the industry with a target date for productions to re-open without social distancing.
He spoke specifically of the pressures of regional theatres, especially given that so many rely on Pantomimes as their biggest performances of the year, and said that many will have to cancel entirely if they don’t know within the next month or so. Pleading with the government to safeguard these institutions from shutting down he said simply if he could say something to the Prime Minister it would just be “give us a date, mate”.
Check out our vlog of the historic event, and read on to hear a little more from Jess and Richard about what it was like!
“It was such a special experience to be there you could just tell that everyone was so excited to be back in a theatre, there were people behind us in the queue that were saying oh my god it’s been so long since I’ve been in a queue to have my bags checked!!
“It was such a positive atmosphere. It was so easy, the front of house staff were so lovely, obviously, everyone was wearing masks and I didn’t hear one person complaining at any point. Hearing the sound of actual live music; drums and guitars and Beverley’s voice was just incredible. There is literally nothing like hearing someone’s powerful vocals just being exploded into an auditorium like that.
“I think Beverley was such a great person to do this because she just breathes theatre. It was so fun, there was some disco, a bit of soul, a bit of musical theatre. There were moments when we were up dancing and clapping our hands and then there were moments where we were just sat down and weeping at her voice.
“At the end she did a performance of Stand By Me acapella and obviously referencing all the different struggles that have been going on during this period and how that song was so important. It was just so emotional, because seeing a Black woman up on stage being able to sing that song and being the first person able to perform for such a long time was just so special.”
Richard explained to us what the experience was like getting in to the theatre.
“We got to the theatre and queued outside along the side of the building. The queue moved very quicky while we were queueing we had to scan a QR code which then meant we could fill our details for Tack and Trace. It was all very very quick we probably only queued for 10 minutes maximum!
“We had our bags checked, our tickets were scanned directly from our phone, and there was hand santetiser on the way in. They had a full-body anti-viral mister that’s not operational yet but we were shown it!
“It was incredibly calm, all the ushers were incredibly well trained. There was a one-way system down to the stalls and again, a one-way system between going into the auditorium.
“When we got in there, all the seats that were not available to sit in were covered up, and there were at least 2 seats within each group. So the auditorium was very spread out but it was a great atmosphere and wonderful to see it really.
“We also ordered an interval drink which we did with an usher in the auditorium and then that was delivered to us almost immediately so again, really slick. Everyone was just really calm and it felt very safe and everyone was just so excited to be there.”
Richard and Jess documented their experience at the Palladium on our Instagram too so head over there to see what the socially distanced day out looked like!