London’s West Finish readies for subsequent act

LONDON (AP) — Noah Thomas noticed his identify in lights, after which the lights went out.

The younger actor was nonetheless in drama college when he was solid to play the lead function within the London West Finish musical “Everyone’s Speaking About Jamie.” Thomas made his skilled debut in early 2020. Weeks later, because the coronavirus pandemic washed over Britain, the town’s theaters closed.

“It was a little bit of a impolite awakening,” Thomas stated. “Because the months ticked on — month one, month two, month three — you suppose, ‘It is a lot larger than any of us may have anticipated.’”

Greater than a 12 months on, the West Finish is getting ready, with hope and apprehension, to welcome audiences again.


Plagues, fires, battle — London has survived all of them. Nevertheless it has by no means had a 12 months like this. The coronavirus has killed greater than 15,000 Londoners and shaken the foundations of one of many world’s nice cities. As a fast-moving mass vaccination marketing campaign holds the promise of reopening, The Related Press appears to be like on the pandemic’s affect on London’s individuals and establishments and asks what the long run may maintain.


The pandemic has devastated British theater, a world-renowned cultural export and main financial drive.

The levels that collectively make use of 300,000 individuals had been ordered shut per week earlier than the nation went into full lockdown in March 2020. They’ve remained closed for a lot of the final 13 months, endangering hundreds extra associated jobs in bars, eating places and lodges that cater to theater-goers.

“We had been the primary to be closed,” producer Nica Burns stated. “And we had been the final to return again.”

A type of sidelined when theaters went darkish was Neil Maxfield, who turned his love of musicals right into a job main strolling excursions of London’s West Finish, the district that’s house to greater than three dozen theaters and long-running juggernaut reveals together with “Les Miserables,” “The Lion King,” “Hamilton” and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Youngster.”

“I simply love the West Finish,” stated the energetic Maxfield, sporting the highest hat that he wears on excursions. “I really like how vibrant it’s, I really like how versatile it’s — that combination of not simply musical theater however performs as effectively, and new issues coming in on a regular basis.”

However for a lot of the previous 12 months, the West Finish has been spookily abandoned, the streets resounding to highway crews and development work moderately than nighttime crowds.

Some marvel if its vitality will ever return. When lockdown froze a lot of the financial system, the British authorities stepped in to assist jobs. Many theater staff fell via the cracks; as freelancers, they weren’t eligible for the funds given to furloughed staff. Many took jobs as supply drivers or retail staff; some had been pressured to depart London due to sky-high rents.

“If you get informed that you just don’t apply for such and such authorities funding or profit schemes, you type of suppose, ’Oh wow, OK. So I actually didn’t get into this for the cash,’” stated Thomas, whose face nonetheless adorns the Apollo Theatre marquee as Jamie, a working-class teenager who desires of being a drag queen.

However actors, the 22-year-old stated, “stand our floor.”

“We’re coming again to do our jobs. We’re not going to surrender what we do, what we’ve educated to do,” he stated.

“Everyone’s Speaking About Jamie” is about to reopen on Might 20, one of many first West Finish reveals to return as soon as the federal government permits indoor venues to confess restricted audiences on Might 17.

Burns, who owns the Apollo and 5 different London theaters, has invested in hand sanitizer stations, one-way arrows and an digital ticketing system. She has had seats eliminated so mask-wearing, temperature-checked viewers members can preserve a distance from each other. Solid and crew members will probably be examined each 48 hours and stored other than audiences and front-of-house employees.

The producer says reopening is a “leap into the darkish,” however she’s inspired by what she noticed throughout a quick interval in December when theaters opened up — solely to shut days later for an additional nationwide lockdown.

“I watched audiences depart the theaters a lot, a lot happier than after they arrived,” Burns stated.

A couple of third of West Finish theaters plan to reopen within the coming weeks, however will probably be a great distance from normality. Massive, costly reveals can’t afford to run on the half-capacity restrict demanded by social distancing necessities. The federal government is aiming to take away attendance limits on June 21, however could preserve them in place if the virus begins to surge once more.

Though two-thirds of British adults have had not less than one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, the federal government is nervous about new virus variants that will resist current photographs.

Even when British audiences return, U.Ok. theaters should do with out worldwide vacationers for the foreseeable future. Theater and music companies have additionally lobbied, to this point unsuccessfully, for a government-backed insurance coverage program in case reside occasions should be canceled due to COVID-19.

Julian Fowl, chief govt of the Society of London Theatre, an umbrella group, stated the business is crying out for certainty that the federal government will comply with the reopening highway map it created earlier this 12 months.

“Individuals are risking cash, they’re spending precise cash,” Fowl stated. “And that’s all in danger if the federal government modifications its thoughts now.”

These working within the business are assured theaters and different cultural establishments will survive. Artists are resilient, and the federal government, after sturdy criticism, has handed out greater than 1.2 billion kilos ($1.7 billion) in grants and loans to arts and tradition organizations.

However many fear concerning the harm already accomplished. Nickie Miles-Wildin, affiliate director of Graeae Theatre Firm, which is run by deaf and disabled artists, fears a setback for hard-won range within the theater.

“My concern with that’s that it’s probably going to be these extra various voices that we’ve misplaced alongside the best way,” she stated. “That, for me, is what’s probably going to be extremely unhappy — it is going to nonetheless really feel like a really white, non-disabled, straight middle-class factor.”

For its hundreds of thousands of followers, London’s West Finish has a particular magic, an vitality rivaled solely by its New York competitor, Broadway. London-born actor Hiba Elchikhe, 28, who performs the title character’s greatest buddy in “Everyone’s Speaking About Jamie,” is assured that can endure.

“Actually, there may be nothing prefer it,” she stated. “I’ve labored abroad. I’ve labored somewhere else. And for me, there’s nothing like enjoying your hometown. The type of buzz — leaving the theater, seeing posters in all places, the buses having the theater posters. It actually is electrical.

“And I don’t imagine that this (pandemic) goes to hinder it in any method. I feel individuals are actually craving to be again in theaters.”


Learn different installments within the AP’s “London: Past the Pandemic” collection:

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