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Ask Lyn: Would Andrew Lloyd Webber be wise to sue the government?

Ask Lyn: Would Andrew Lloyd Webber be wise to sue the government?

Ask Lyn: Would Andrew Lloyd Webber be wise to sue the government? cover photo on Stagedoor
"Dear Lyn, I saw it reported that Andrew Lloyd Webber has threatened to sue the government if theatre cannot open at capacity after June 21. Is this a wise move?" - Julian, Putney

Dear Julian,

I’d say about as wise as King Canute commanding the tide to stop coming in and probably slightly less effective. You might possibly, at least at a squeeze, think he had the whole industry’s best interests at heart when making this empty threat. Still, as Great Aunt Cecily said darkly, there is a reason why it’s called show business, and she then muttered something about toys and prams.

Lloyd Webber’s latest musical, Cinderella, is due to begin performances at the Gillian Lynne theatre on June 25, in the hope that it will be able to play at full capacity after the country enters Stage Four of the roadmap on June 21.

I understand there is a lot at stake. New musicals are hugely expensive to stage and there is a lot of money riding on this one’s success, especially since it's already been postponed from last year. But the roadmap was never set in stone and squealing foul at this stage isn’t going to help anyone. The government hasn’t moved the goalposts, but the virus might have done. Maybe Lloyd Webber should try suing the virus. Good luck with that.

His blustering seems particularly odd from a man who has positioned himself as an industry leader during the pandemic. Was he only ever thinking about his own bottom line? As we’ve discussed before, if there is no full opening up on June 21st it won’t-- as Lloyd Webber predicts-- be curtains for theatre. Many theatre producers have already planned for such an eventuality, with social distancing in place well into the late summer. Will their pockets suffer? Yes, but there is a price worth paying to protect audiences, front of house staff, casts and creatives.

If the June 21st re-opening is delayed, rather than threatening to sue—a process that would be long, costly and by no means successful—Lloyd Webber would do better to invest the money and his efforts in presenting Cinderella in a socially distanced fashion that ensures the safety of all. This approach would be seen as boosting audience confidence, which is being severely tested in these uncertain times.

It would also benefit not just Lloyd Webber’s own show but the whole of British theatre, and demonstrate true leadership by very clearly indicating that everyone’s well-being, including that of the audience, is at the heart of the operation. After all, every audience wants to be confident that in buying a ticket to the theatre they will be assured both of a great night out, and of living healthily ever after.

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Lyn Gardner

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