Latest coronavirus rules – and capacity limits – for theatres

Theatres are currently allowed to open, but there are capacity limits in place that mean they cannot welcome a full audience yet

Mary Poppins on stage
Theatres were hoping to welcome back audiences at the end of June

For most of the past year, we’ve not been able to attend live performances for an evening’s entertainment, whether that’s theatre shows, music concerts or comedy acts.

People have seen their tickets rescheduled and cancelled through 2020 and 2021, as the pandemic continues to jeopardise events taking place.

Step three of the roadmap out of lockdown, which took effect on May 17, saw the reopening of indoor hospitality, indoor sports classes and indoor entertainment venues – but with restrictions on capacity.

This meant a capacity limit of 1,000 people was put in place for indoors (with social distancing in place). Outdoor performances could have up to 4,000 people standing or 10,000 seated.

Live performances have been put on hold and rescheduled throughout the last year due to the pandemic


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June 21 was meant to see the final goodbye to social distancing measures with “everything” being lifted, but the government pushed step four back to July 19 at the earliest.

When can theatres reopen?

Theatres are allowed to open and stage performances, but they must obey the government’s capacity limits until the final lockdown restrictions are lifted.

With the current capacity limit still in place for the performing arts, it is making it increasingly difficult financially for theatres to return to “normal”.

Some West End shows have been able to get back up and running with limited capacity, but they may have been depending on having a full audience by the end of June.

Other theatres are only reopening later on in July when they can welcome a full capacity back through their doors.

According to the Telegraph: “Most major shows need around 70 to 80 per cent of seats filled merely to break even”.

This brings in hardship for productions which are not able to open their doors to full capacity, as they were hoping to do on June 21.

What are the rules?

For theatres that have opened their doors, Covid safety measures are in place with compulsory masks to be worn during the show, social distancing, staggered entry times, one way systems and e-tickets.

Tickets are typically being sold to one or two households, a support bubble, or a group of up to six people where the current restrictions stand.

Festivals were also put on hold until the final step in July, but the recent Download pilot festival is said to “confirm” festivals will be able to go ahead this summer from a successful safe event.

With the delay on the final stage of lockdown, July 19 should lift current social distancing and venue capacities, so theatres can once again return to “normal” and enjoy a full capacity crowd.

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