Theatres gradually start to reopen

Some distancing restrictions have been lifted and theatres can stage outdoor performances and open up their indoor spaces for food, films, tours and live performance with social-distancing measures in place. 

We are still waiting for a date when venues can reopen safely for live performance with a full audience without social distancing measures, but in the meantime here are some of the ways that theatres are gradually reopening their buildings or staging performances in different ways.

We’ve updated this article for more of the things theatres are doing - new additions in bold.

Indoor performance

Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch has announced an autumn season of socially distanced indoor performances starting from 3 September. Bookers are able to choose, up until the day of the show, whether to watch the show live onstage or streamed to their homes. 

Paignton's Palace Theatre will reopen for a series of daytime talks from mid-September. Audience members can expect an at-seat drinks service to reduce congestion, a newly-fitted air conditioning system in the auditorium, protective screens at the box office desk, wall mounted hand sanitiser units and clear signage to ensure social distance measures are maintained.  

Cirencester's Barn Theatre will reopen for indoor shows from September 10. It will run at a reduced capacity of 120, down from 202. The venue will also have screens placed between groups, with a new seating layout to ensure social distancing measures are adhered to, and a new and upgraded air filtration system.

From September, Riverside Studios in Hammersmith will present a season of readings featuring both new plays and musicals. Adopting a hybrid model, the shows will be available for audiences both at the venue, as well as online viewers tuning in.

The Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough has announced it will reopen for indoor live performance with distanced audiences in October with its autumn season. The season includes a festive family show a previously announced production of The Snow Queen but revamped as a one-woman show. For audiences who are still shielding during the pandemic, the theatre will release digital plays.

Princess Hunstanton is piloting four socially-distanced shows in August and September. The audience will have to adhere to social distancing rules and wear a mask at all times in the building.

Cromer Pier Pavilion has reopened for live performance. The layout has been redesigned to adhere to social distancing, with capacity reduced from 460 to 100. Openwide, which manages the theatre, has donated the space to an independent 90-minute show and the profit is being split by the staff and performers who would usually be working on cruise ships or doing summer seasons.

The Cockpit Theatre has reopened for socially-distanced shows, classes, rehearsals, film shoots, broadcasts and community activities following a successful pilot opera performance in early August.

London's Kenneth More Theatre is reopening for indoor live performance on 22 August. Audience members will be separated and there will be multiple exits and entrances to minimise the number of people together. There will be a one-way system in place for performers and singers on stage will only be permitted to sing back-to-back.

Bristol Old Vic has announced it is to reopen for indoor live performance from August 20, initially with three performances by Bristolian artists - a series of experimental pieces, through its Bristol Ferment programme, will be performed in September.

Malvern Theatres has announced it will reopen for indoor live performance, with social distancing measures in place from mid-September. 

A new socially-distanced show is to open at the Tristan Bates Theatre in central London from 22 September. The theatre's capacity will be limited to 28. An online version will also be available during its run, with details to be announced in the coming weeks.

Exeter Northcott has unveiled plans for staging a socially-distanced festive show this winter season, in place of its traditional panto. The audience will be seated in family / friend bubbles.

The Hippodrome, Great Yarmouth has announced its indoor live performances restart on 15 August. The venue's usual capacity sees a reduction from 900 to 300, each performance will run for 70 minutes with no interval and a sanitising machine will be used between performances.

Sleepless, A Musical Romance, a socially-distanced indoor performance will run at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre from August 25.

Bridlington Spa opens for live indoor performance later in August with social distancing in place.

London’s National Theatre has also announced it will welcome back socially-distanced audiences later this year in the larger Olivier theatre for a sequel to the monologue Death of England.

London’s Bridge Theatre will reopen to a live audience with Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, part of its new season in September.

From October, The Mousetrap, the world's longest-running show, has announced plans to reopen at St Martin’s Theatre in London.

Southwark Playhouse will reopen its doors throughout October with The Last Five Years in a reduced-capacity auditorium and socially-distanced cast and audience members.

Later in the autumn, Derby Theatre is planning Ghost Light - a unique theatrical experience that will take place around the theatre, available for one family or bubble at a time.

Socially-distanced comedy is scheduled for King’s Southsea in the run-up to its winter pantomime, where social distancing measures will be in place with the theatre at a reduced capacity. Socially-distanced panto will also take place this winter at St Helens Theatre Royal.  

For many socially-distanced live indoor performance is not yet viable, but venues are finding ways to stage performances outside and reopen their buildings as they wait until it is safe and practicable to do so. 

Outdoor performance

As indoor distanced performances are currently unviable at Waterloo East Theatre, in early September it will be launching Alfresco, a new pop–up open-air venue around the corner from its main building - Covid-19 safety measures will be in place.

Theatr Clwyd in Wales is to reopen for live performance with a programme of outdoor concerts and theatre shows from the end of August to the end of September and staged on top of a hill next to the theatre. The theatre has been part of the countries reopening trials.

A series of monthly Covid-safe outdoor performances have been announced by Poole's Lighthouse at its outdoor amphitheatre area to the side of the building, starting in September. 

Storyhouse in Chester has converted its main theatre into a cinema and will now operate with two screening rooms. The theatre has also arranged a series of drive-in outdoor movies and its pop-up theatre in Grosvenor Park will host one live show throughout August.

Sterts Theatre, which is a covered open-air theatre in Cornwall, has been staging socially-distanced shows since mid-July. 

Outdoor performances are taking place at York Theatre Royal with its Pop-up on the Patio Festival.

Selladoor has announced an outdoor festival at its Landmark Theatre in Ilfracombe, which will take place at the North Devon venue at the end of August. 

Brighton Open Air Theatre, the Minack Theatre in Cornwall and Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre have announced summer seasons with reduced capacity and strict social distancing guidelines for audiences, staff and performers.

The Barn Theatre, Cirencester has announced the launch of its first outdoor theatre festival, BarnFest, in the grounds of Ingleside House adjacent to the theatre.

Wiltshire Creative has announced Cloudscapes, an outdoor audio-show in the grounds of the arts centre taking place on 8 August.

Battersea Arts Centre is hosting a short season of outdoor comedy in its courtyard space.

The Newbury Corn Exchange will be presenting some free outdoor performances over the summer.

Theatres are also taking the opportunity to create new temporary outdoor performance spaces, Chichester Festival Theatre with its outdoor raised stage next to the theatre in Oaklands Park, where plots are marked out for audiences, and Norwich Theatre Royal with a series of socially-distanced performances staged inside a temporary tent located in the city's Chapelfield Gardens.

Using their buildings

From the beginning of September, Darlington Hippodrome will reopen its doors for a socially-distanced season of activities for people of all ages. Screenings of fan-favourite films will also be hosted in the auditorium.

King's Portsmouth will start showing movies and hosting pre-show Q&As from its auditorium from early September. In early December the theatre will present a free live performance of Dick Whittington for key workers and their families.

Shakespeare’s Globe theatre tours are restarting - visitors are able to tread the boards of its famed stage for the first time.

The Leatherhead Theatre has turned its green room into a Covid-secure book room for the public. Books are available to take away for a small donation.  

Chipping Norton Theatre has said it will continue its programme of community workshops and participatory work this autumn – both online and some in-person. 

Helmsley Arts Centre is operating its cinema and there are plans for future classes and events.

Exeter's Northcott Theatre is welcoming back young theatre-makers from August. Up to 20 young people will return to the theatre for four days of small-group theatre-making activities to help ease them out of lockdown. Northcott Young Company Saturday classes will then resume in September, leading up to a socially-distanced performance at the Northcott during October half term.

Throughout August Theatre Peckham is phasing its re-opening with a series of Behind Closed Doors participation projects, part of the summer programme. Its facilities are also available for Covid-secure hire. 

Oxford House Theatre in Bethnal Green has reopened its café - its theatre, dance studio, chapel and roof terrace are open for socially-distanced rehearsals and filming.  

The Hub coffee bar at Sheringham Little Theatre has reopened, it is screening movies and has organised an outdoor performance in the walled garden at nearby Mannington Hall.

Cinema has returned to Theatr Clwyd, not in the cinema space but in its Anthony Hopkins Theatre where physical distancing can be implemented more simply and enjoyed by more people. 

The Donmar Warehouse’s Blindness, a socially-distanced sound installation around its auditorium, started on 1 August.

The Bush in London has opened to the public with the launch of several summer projects for the local community and the opening of the theatre’s Library bar. 

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry was one of the first to reopen its café (1 June), selling food and drink to the public from the double doors at the front of the building. It will offer indoor seating from September.

Visitors to Southwark Playhouse can have socially-distanced drinks in the bar as well as in its smaller studio space, The Little.

The bar at Soho Theatre is welcoming punters with new measures in place as per government guidelines.

Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, Winchester Theatre Royal, and Salisbury Arts Centre are also welcoming visitors into their indoor spaces for refreshments.

Venues such as Stanley Halls in Croydon, the Old Sorting Office Arts Centre in Barnes and the Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy have opened their cafés outdoors.

Chester Storyhouse, Manchester’s Home and St Georges Theatre, Great Yarmouth are, in the short-term, repurposing their auditoria for cinema with physically-distanced seating.

Theatre tours have also restarted. Visitors to Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond can see first-hand building work taking place to improve the auditorium.

Theatre tours are also taking place at Morecambe Winter Gardens, currently on our Theatres at Risk list, the Britannia Panopticon in Glasgow and at Bristol Old Vic.

These are just a few of the ways that theatres are beginning to reopen. More will be announcing outdoor summer performances and working out how to open their spaces safely for everyone. If your theatre is reopening in any capacity please let us know by sending an email to mentioning when and what they are doing and we can add them to this article.

Find out ways theatres are playing a pivotal role in their communities in these difficult times.

Image: Minack Theatre, Cornwall