Curtains will rise on the first West End musicals to reopen this weekend – nine months after coronavirus forced them to close.
Final rehearsals have been under way for the cast of Six, the tale of Henry VIII’s many wives portrayed as pop princesses in the show at the Lyric Theatre.
Lucy Moss, one of the writers and directors, said she is “trepidatiously excited”, but added that the cast and crew have learnt to temper their excitement over the past year due to the number of last-minute cancellations and set-backs.
“It’s just been so heart-breaking and devastating watching what’s happened to our industry and watching all the performers and companies and backstage crew not knowing when they’re going back to work or whether they’re going back to work, which is why it’s so exciting to be back here now working on the show,” she said.
Some plays reopened briefly before the second lockdown, but not musicals.
Now venues in Tiers 1 and 2 can reopen at 50% capacity or 1,000 seats, whichever is lower, and audiences will be separated into household groups with spacing between and masks worn by all.
Jarneia Richard-Noel, who plays Catherine of Aragon, says she cannot wait to be performing for an audience once more.
“It’s so important to get this up and running to show theatre can work in this time and even though it’s hard with fewer seats, it can still happen,” she said.
The cast and crew have had to bring in changes.
Everyone attending rehearsals is regularly tested and the choreography has been altered to keep performers at least a metre apart.
But it’s a small sacrifice to make to be able to open the doors to theatres once more, so badly hit by the pandemic.
In July, the government announced a £1.57bn support package for the arts called the Culture Recovery Fund, which has helped.
So far just over a quarter of that has been allocated in grants to more than 2,000 organisations from theatres to museums.
But in a business full of freelancers, many have found themselves slipping through the net of financial support on offer.
Courtney Bowman, who portrays Anne Boleyn, was one of the lucky ones.
“Thank God for the government and their help. I managed to be eligible for a grant, which was great,” she said, adding that it had still been “an incredibly difficult time”.
Natalie Paris, or Jane Seymour in the show, described the impact on the world of theatre as “just heart-breaking”.
“I’ve been lucky to have some online things going on but I know so many of my friends have lost their jobs and had to get ‘normal jobs’,” she said.
Another show to reopen on Saturday is Les Miserables, at the West End’s Sondheim Theatre.