With face-coverings becoming compulsory in indoor public spaces from Friday 24th July, the theatre world has turned their attention to an entirely different kind of mask.
On Wednesday, producer Cameron Macintosh revealed The Phantom of the Opera, the West End’s second longest-running musical, will shut for good following coronavirus-linked theatre closures. I was preparing to write a warming tribute to Phantom when, the following day, the show’s composer Andrew Lloyd Webber made a public contradiction. As far as Lloyd Webber was concerned, Phantom would “re-open as soon as is possible”.
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Phantom’s home for the last 34 years, has been closed since 16th March, along with most theatres across London. That being said, LWTheatres, who own Her Majesty’s, have been taking the popular route and using the opportunity to spruce the theatre up. This really hit home when photos emerged online of the iconic Phantom chandelier leaving the theatre just last week. Following Macintosh’s comments, the theatre world has begun to wonder if it will ever return to crash from the rafters again.
With fans contemplating the fate of the masked musician, this all raises a crucial question: What now? Will Britain’s world-famous theatre industry bounce back as the government insists, or does the fall of Phantom foretell dark times ahead?
In a recent interview with The Times, director Sam Mendes eulogised the loss of British theatre. While Mendes has dominated award season in the last few years, he now reveals his fears for the future. Without a hard date for reopening before Christmas, he claims the industry could “risk oblivion”.
The government announced a £1.57 billion package to rescue the arts in early July, but both Mendes and Macintosh have maintained that it is not enough. They argue that social-distancing rules in theatres are “no longer a requirement,” and that these rules will spell the end of the industry completely.
Currently having to operate at only 30% capacity, theatres both large and small are struggling to survive economically while attempting to produce a full programme for the coming months. Outdoor facilities such as the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre have begun to see some return to normality as they are afforded more freedoms. However, it could be some time before indoor theatres are able to reopen, even with reduced capacity. The true fate of The Phantom of the Opera remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: it will be some time before the Angel of Music can grace the stage again.