Sheffield Lyceum 'unable to reopen as planned if social distancing not lifted', boss warns

One of Yorkshire’s biggest theatres will be unable to reopen as planned until social distancing requirements are lifted, its chief executive has revealed.

The Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield. Picture: Chris Etchells

The 1,000 seat Sheffield Lyceum is currently due to reopen its doors in mid-August for a production of Hairspray but Dan Bates, chief executive of Sheffield Theatres told The Yorkshire Post that would be in doubt if social distancing requirements remain beyond July 19.

“The Lyceum could only open if social distancing wasn’t in place,” Mr Bates said. “It is scheduled to open in August with Hairspray. It might be possible but it is only really viable if social distancing is not in place.”

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The Lyceum is hoping to reopen in August. Picture: Brian Eyre

His comments come after the final stage of lockdown easing was delayed by four weeks from June 21 to July 19 by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a result of increasing Covid cases linked to the Delta variant which originated in India.

Sheffield Theatres is also responsible for the neighbouring Crucible theatre, which is still due to stage a new production of Victoria Wood’s Talent from June 30 to July 24. Most of those shows will be at a maximum one-third capacity, limiting the audience numbers to 330 per performance.

It had been hoped to put on five non-socially distanced performances from mid-July with the Crucible two-thirds full but at least two of these productions will now been downgraded to one-third capacity.

Mr Bates said while the Crucible has “more flexibility” than the Lyceum to continue socially distanced performances, this would not be sustainable for long.

His comments come after actors’ union Equity called for a Government-backed insurance scheme for the theatre industry.

Mr Bates said such a move would be a “gamechanger” providing much greater certainty for touring productions.

“It is a big commitment to tour a production around the UK. You have 25 to 30 people on stage and you might have 25 to 30 in the entourage to set it up, travelling each week across the country.

“The risks are much higher. As a production you could have a great time in Sheffield and then the next city on the tour might be in local lockdown.”

Sheffield Theatres, which includes the two venues and the smaller Studio space inside the Crucible building, received £3m in Government support through Culture Recovery Fund grants.

Mr Bates said the money - along with the furlough scheme - had been vital but added more support will be required should restrictions continue with reduced audience numbers not sustainable.

“It has only been possible because of the Government’s Cultural Relief Fund that finishes at the end of June. To go much beyond this time will make things very difficult for theatres.

“We rely on 400,000 visitors a year and 89 per cent of our income comes from our audience.”

A Government spokesperson said it will ensure theatres can operate at full capacity "as soon as it is safe to do so".

They said: "Our unprecedented Culture Recovery Fund is the largest one-off investment in UK culture. It has so far supported over 650 theatres with £250 million funding, including support for 43 theatres across Yorkshire and the Humber to date - and recipients include Harrogate Theatre, Theatre Royal Wakefield and Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House. Further support is on the way following a £300 million extension at Budget.

"We have also piloted a theatre setting through the world-leading Events Research Programme, with the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield hosting the World Snooker Championships. We will ensure theatres can operate at full capacity as soon as it is safe to do so."

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