This evening, just as most of us were switching off the laptop and starting to consider what to make for dinner, The Evening Standard published an article penned by renowned theatre producer, Cameron Mackintosh, that would send shockwaves through London’s West End. The surprise wasn’t that he declared himself a “staunch Conservative” who admires Boris Johnson’s “Churchillian spirit”, but that the iconic The Phantom of The Opera had closed for good (well, maybe).
But the whole article feels more than a little odd. It’s not an interview, the kind where quotes can be taken out of context or misconstrued (wasn’t Churchillian Johnson guilty of that at The Telegraph?), no, this has been written by Mackintosh himself and clearly is intended to demonstrate exactly what the producer wants.
The first two paragraphs discuss Andrew Lloyd Webber’s pilot at The London Palladium last week, where Beverley Knight performed to a house at roughly 25% capacity, but it’s hardly supportive commentary, the word “absurdity” is closely followed with “ridiculousness” before “Even the expensively imported Korean hygienic fog machine got condemned as unsafe by PHE — the Marx brothers would have difficulty topping that.” Mackintosh finally concedes that Lloyd Webber is trying his best, but the phrasing suggests his best isn’t good enough.
Mackintosh goes on to bemoan social distancing; he’s never agreed with it apparently, but then he probably doesn’t have to take the tube that often. He’s also not seen his share of the £1.57bn rescue package yet, so The Phantom of The Opera is now closed permanently.
Wait, hang on.
The second longest running musical in the West End, known and beloved across the world, is closing forever, but that news isn’t the headline and comes slipped in casually at the end of the fourth paragraph? Now, “permanently” does usually carry connotations of permanence, but Mackintosh does go on to say he is “determined to bring it back to London in the future.”
So, is it gone forever, or destined to return? Well, a cynic may read between the lines and come to the conclusion that the Phantom of the Opera we all know and love has gone forever, but a version of it will be back in the West End before too long. That version is likely to be the touring one, which is cheaper to stage and will be more lucrative for Cameron Mackintosh as a producer. He’s already done it to Les Mis, so why not Phantom?
It seems very strange that such big news would be revealed in such a blasé way, especially when so many livelihoods are at stake. Just last week, the cast of Dear Evan Hansen, which was playing at a Delfont Mackintosh theatre, revealed that they had found out their show wasn’t reopening until next year via a press release on social media.
The article goes on to tell us how much money Mackintosh has ploughed in to the theatre industry and the Governement’s coffers, and goes on to attempt to invoke some kind of Blitz spirit – Hitler only managed to close theatres for a few weeks, and a highly infectious virus shouldn’t be any different, apparently.
Mackintosh is “totally opposed to social distancing”, not just in theatre’s but everywhere and until “the Government accepts” it, Mackintosh’s shows won’t be returning to the West End. We all know that the majority of shows aren’t financially viable with social distancing, but we all also know how this virus spreads, and what that does to audience confidence.
There’s going to be no easy answer to the West End reopening, but simply demanding that the Government ditch social distancing, or treat Covid-19 with the same contempt they did Hitler, isn’t going to help the show to go on. At least Cameron Mackintosh was right about one thing, Andrew Lloyd Webber is trying his best, and he’s doing it by being proactive and investing in solutions that might help.