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Cinderella: Andrew Lloyd Webber says theatre is on its knees due to Covid rules

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Andrew Lloyd Webber has said the theatre industry is “on its knees” due to self-isolation Covd-19 rules.

He was speaking after the opening two nights of his new show Cinderella were cancelled because some cast and crew members were told to self-isolate.

He said the current system was “completely, completely untenable” and pleaded with the government to listen.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has said he was “deeply disappointed” to hear about Cinderella’s closure.

“Whilst the need to self isolate is an economy wide issue, I recognise the particular challenges it presents to the arts and I’m strongly making the case for that in government,” Mr Dowden added.

Monday and Tuesday’s Cinderella performances at the Gillian Lynne theatre in London were halted after a member of the cast tested positive for Covid-19 at the weekend, resulting in close contacts having to self-isolate.

That positive test had already led to two preview performances being scrapped on Saturday.

Lord Lloyd-Webber said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson “doesn’t seem to grasp what we’re about in theatre”.

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He said that close contacts of the positive case had been given additional PCR tests, as had anyone due to perform on Monday night. All those tests came back negative.

It’s not clear when the show will now open.

A spokesman for the production told the BBC: “It’s hard to see a route forward under the current rules, but we will do everything we can to come back.”

Lord Lloyd-Webber said he is determined to open Cinderella in London and has so far ignored “siren voices” suggesting he moves it to Broadway.

“I’m not going to do that, I can’t do that,” he said. “I’m a Brit and we’ve got a fantastic cast and so we will open here, but who knows? 2084? I don’t know.”

Lord Lloyd Webber added: “We cannot function with this current system. We can’t isolate every time somebody may or may not have it. It just simply doesn’t work.

“Please, please will this government for once listen to us. Listen. We do know what we’re doing, we do. Just listen and knock all these platitudes and endless, endless blunt instruments that don’t apply across the board.”

“Whilst the need to self-isolate is an economy-wide issue, I recognise the particular challenges it presents to the arts and I’m strongly making the case for that in government.”

Lord Lloyd-Webber added Mr Dowden “does his best” but “I don’t think he’s really able to be that effective”.

“This is the last chance for this government to show they have the remotest interest in theatre,” he said. “I do worry at the end of the day that the government doesn’t regard theatre as anything other than nice to have.

“I don’t think they have a clue of what the real economic value to the country theatre is, and indeed all forms of live entertainment.”

He added: “It’s so vital this government understands the economics of what they’re doing, let alone the idiocy.

But not everyone was sympathetic to Lord Lloyd-Webber’s situation, including theatre critic Mark Shenton.

“No one MADE him try to open a new musical in a pandemic. And yet now it’s everyone else’s fault but his own,” he wrote.

Earlier on Monday, the theatre impresario had said: “Freedom day had turned into closure day,” referring to 19 July being the date when many coronavirus restrictions were lifted in England.

“We have been forced into a devastating decision which will affect the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of people and disappoint the thousands who have booked to see the show,” said Lord Lloyd-Webber.

“Cinderella was ready to go. My sadness for our cast and crew, our loyal audience and the industry I have been fighting for is impossible to put into words.”

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Cinderella opened last month with an audience capacity of 50% after Lord Lloyd-Webber rejected Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s offer for it to be included in the live events pilot scheme.

Actress Carrie Fletcher tweeted on Monday to say she was “completely and utterly gutted” at the news.

Michael Ball, currently starring in Hairspray in the West End, which recently had to scrap 10 of its performances due to a positive Covid test, tweeted his sympathy.

Actors’ union Equity said in a statement: “Due regard must be given by the government to the industry’s pleas to enable the opening of productions where it is safe to do so, and it must bring forward the planned changes to self-isolation rules.”

Equity previously called for workers in the entertainment industry who have come into close contact with someone with Covid-19 to not have to self-isolate (unless they have tested positive themselves) from 19 July when other restrictions were lifted, rather than the current planned date of 16 August.

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