Football fans are asking why they still can’t go to open air matches, while roughly 1,000 people attended the London Palladium on each of the past two nights.
Audience members were pictured wearing masks and were separated by empty seats, but concerns were still raised about how safe it was in the theatre.
It comes after Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said that now is not the right time to let fans back into football stadiums as coronavirus cases rise rapidly across the country.
After seeing applauding crowds at Sunday night’s performance of the musical ‘Songs for a New World’ and Monday’s Q&A with former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, football fans vented their frustration on social media.
Sky Sports commentator Gary Taphouse said: ‘Great to see people (wearing face coverings) enjoying the theatre. Now how about letting some fans in to open air football grounds?’
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ITV Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan tweeted: ‘How can the London Palladium be packed like this last night for an event with Arsene Wenger, but football fans aren’t allowed to watch matches outside even socially distanced? I’m completely bemused.’
Tottenham supporter Tan Guy wrote: ‘Unbelievable. And in central London. Pretty much EVERYONE would’ve had to have gone on public transport, far more than football fans, who you could incentivise driving by making parking free etc. Crazy.’
Meanwhile Chelsea fan Tim Rolls said: ‘So it is OK for what looks like a lot of theatre goers to attend the “Songs For A New World” at the London Palladium last night, but not for the same number to enter a football ground or seven people to go to the pub. Incomprehensible.’
Critic Mark Shenton said he believed ‘social distancing was not complied with’. Sharing a picture from Sunday’s show, he said: ‘Seating wasn’t even staggered… so I’m not sure this was really safe.
‘I didn’t have my tape measure with me last night, but I’d like to see proof that there was 1 metre distance between myself and the two women seated directly in front of me (who kept their masks off for much of the show to eat crisps!)
‘On the other hand, temperature checks were made, mask wearing was properly enforced; staggered arrival times meant less crush to get in, and bar service was entirely by seat delivery service. So @LondonPalladium was doing its best. But seating was NOT socially distanced enough.’
Theatre blogger Musical Manda replied: ‘Unfortunately I felt the same. As a result I won’t be seeing my parents for a week.’
But LW Theatres, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s group of seven venues in London’s West End, said all parties were kept at least 1 metre apart.
Chief executive Rebecca Kane tweeted: ‘Let me be very clear. Social distancing was and is at the heart of all planning of events.’
She said tens of thousands of pounds had been spent re-configuring the stalls so bubbles could be kept apart.
Others jumped in to defend the theatre, sharing pictures of the socially distanced seating plan in an empty venue, claiming photos of the applauding crowd gave a wrong impression.
Theatre blogger Sarah McPartlan said on Instagram: ‘There have been photos shared that do make it look like the auditorium was rammed. Let me assure you that was not the case. I felt like I was quite far from anyone else in the audience.’
Sharing a picture of the seating plan on Twitter, she wrote: ‘The white markings show where people cannot sit. The photo previously shared is deceptive!’
But in response to a similar picture of the venue, football fan Lee Harvey tweeted: ‘We have no real issue with the concert going ahead with all the bits you mention above.
‘However, how can that go ahead yet we can’t go to football matches with social distancing – spare seats – limited capacity – health checks? All in the open air!’
After queuing in the rain to see Wenger speak, Anthony Kerr told BBC News: ‘In my opinion the London Palladium put on a safe event. There was a large crowd but we were 2m apart. And when we left they filtered people out in rows, there was no bottleneck.’
In a statement, LW Theatres said the recent performances were ‘fully in line with and indeed go further than the government’s current Stage 4 guidelines for the re-opening of theatres’.
It added: ‘With the support of public health officials, Westminster Council and DCMS (Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport), we have a 1m distance plus safety mitigations – for example mandatory face coverings – social distancing between each customer bubble across The London Palladium, operating at around 50% capacity.
‘We have ensured that all audience bubbles are seated at least 1m apart through the following reconfigured seats: in the circles, we use ‘chequerboard’ seating and, in the stalls, we have respaced rows to ensure a 1m distance on all sides.’
The firm said the 2,286 capacity theatre was being deep-cleaned regularly using ‘full decontamination fogging treatments’.
Government guidelines say theatres must ‘ensure appropriate social distancing’, taking ‘extra steps to stay safe’ in situations where people cannot stay two metres apart.
The Society of London Theatres says: ‘Wherever possible you should keep people 2m apart. If this is not viable, keeping 1m apart with robust risk mitigation is acceptable.’
However many venues cannot function as a viable business under current social distancing rules.
On its website, the Royal Albert Hall says: ‘Under the latest distancing rules our capacity would be reduced to around 36%. In order for us to break even, and therefore be sustainable as a charity, we typically need a capacity of between 80-90%.
‘Some one-off events will be viable, and we are working to find these and other ways to generate income.
‘The BBC will be able to host live concerts here for the final two weeks of the 2020 Proms season for instance, with or without a socially distanced audience. However we cannot viably reopen for the vast majority of events.’
Metro.co.uk has contacted the DCMS for comment.
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