Ministers are planning to run test events at outdoor festivals with large crowds and at theatre productions, including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella, before mid-July.
The government is sanctioning the move for up to 20 sporting and cultural events after delaying by four weeks its plans to scrap restrictions on social distancing.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport held a call with the entertainment industry yesterday about the plans, which will involve theatres, music venues and outdoor festivals.
Lloyd Webber had threatened to open his theatres at full capacity in contravention of the rules. Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, spoke to him last week after he challenged the government to arrest him for opening his theatres.
Lloyd Webber said that he would only agree to his production of Cinderella being a test event if it was part of a wider scheme for the whole industry.
“Oliver Dowden suggested the possible idea of pilot events at the end of last week,” Lloyd Webber said. “I have made it very clear that I will not take part in any pilot scheme unless it is representative of theatre and live music as a whole. However, if that is the case and the health people are insisting that they really need more pilots before they let us all re-open, I’ll take part, but I reiterate I absolutely will not unless I am assured that Cinderella is part of a much wider scheme.”
Industry figures have criticised ministers for offering pilot schemes for high-profile events while leaving smaller venues to deal with the consequences of the four-week delay. Craig Hassall, the Royal Albert Hall chief executive, said that he was getting “bitter and twisted” about the decision-making process.
“A cynical person would say: ‘Isn’t it funny that the test events being mooted now are the Wimbledon final, a car race and probably a Cinderella production by Lloyd Webber?’” he told Times Radio.
Greg Parmley, chief executive of LIVE, which represents the live music industry, said: “The latest phase of pilots is unnecessary and seems designed only to allow a few high-profile events to go ahead while the rest of the sector is devastated.”
Those who want to attend the events will be required to prove either that they have had both doses of a vaccine or a recent negative test.
Download festival will be taking place in Leicestershire this weekend with an audience of 10,000, a tenth of its usual size, as part of an earlier government pilot scheme. Some major sporting events, including Euro 2020 football matches and the British Grand Prix, will also go ahead with large crowds. The government said on Monday that the men’s and women’s finals at Wimbledon would take place with a full Centre Court of 15,000 spectators.
Hassall claimed that ministers were overlooking concert halls in favour of mass-market events. “It’s galling that the pilots being mooted are of course the most popular events,” he said.
Asked if he was tempted to follow Lloyd Webber and challenge the government to arrest him, Hassall said: “No. We will always follow the government guidance. We’ve done so much to make the Royal Albert Hall safe.”