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Coronavirus: West End shuts down as Boris Johnson’s advice sparks anger

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People wearing masks outside Les Miserables in London Image copyright AFP
Image caption Les Miserables is among the shows that have closed for the foreseeable future

Theatres in London’s West End and around the UK have shut after PM Boris Johnson advised people to avoid such venues as coronavirus spreads.

“You should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues,” he said.

However, he stopped short of forcing venues to close, leaving some in the affected industries in limbo.

The Society of London Theatre, which represents the West End, said theatres would close from Monday night until further notice.

Sister organisation UK Theatre said its 165 venues around the country would take the same step.

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Media captionBoris Johnson: “It look as though we are now approaching the fast growth part of the upward curve”

Speaking during his first daily news briefing on Monday, Mr Johnson said the government advice was that “public venues such as theatres should no longer be visited”.

He added: “The proprietors of those venues are taking the logical steps that you would imagine, you are seeing the change happen already.

“As for enforcement, we have the powers if necessary but I don’t believe it will be necessary to use those powers.”

Mr Johnson said that from Tuesday mass gatherings were something “we are now moving emphatically away from”.

He also said people should now avoid “non-essential” travel and contact with others.

‘Huge uncertainty and confusion’

But many figures from the worlds of theatre, music and other live entertainment were angry that Mr Johnson advised people to stay away while not forcing venues to close, which could have given them financial protection.

UK Music, which represents the music industry, said the hundreds of likely gig and festival cancellations would cause “immense damage”, and Mr Johnson’s comments risked exacerbating the problem.

“The prime minister’s latest advice on mass gatherings has resulted in huge uncertainty and confusion over what exactly it will mean for the music industry,” acting chief executive Tom Kiehl said.

“The government must spell out whether there will be a formal ban, when that might come into effect, which venues and events will be impacted and how long the measures will remain in place.

“The virus is having a catastrophic impact on the UK music industry and will threaten many jobs and businesses across our right across our sector.”

Patrick Gracey, producer of Tom Stoppard’s latest play Leopoldstadt, said the prime minister “has just doomed an entire industry by telling people not to attend the theatre”.

He added: “By not enforcing a shutdown, production insurance will not apply so producers and shows will go bankrupt, and tens of thousands of people will be without pay.”

London nightclub owner Fraser Carruthers echoed those concerns.

Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre chief executive Julian Bird said: “Closing venues is not a decision that is taken lightly, and we know that this will have a severe impact on many of the 290,000 individuals working in our industry.”

The Royal Opera House also shut down immediately after the prime minister’s press conference.

In other developments in the entertainment world:

A number of plays and gigs had already been scrapped as the virus continued to spread.

Earlier, Daniel Radcliffe’s new play Endgame became the first major London production to be cancelled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Citing travel and other restrictions, the Old Vic said it was “becoming increasingly impractical to sustain business as usual at our theatre”.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Endgame, starring (left-right) Daniel Radcliffe, Jane Horrocks, Alan Cumming and Karl Johnson, was cancelled

The theatre warned that giving full refunds for all lost performances would be “financially devastating for us”, so asked ticket-holders to consider the ticket price as a donation.

The Royal Court has postponed all performances “during these difficult months”, and the Young Vic theatre has cancelled all remaining performances of Nora: A Doll’s House.

In New York, Broadway shut down last week and will stay dark for at least a month in a move that could cost $565m (£455m) in lost revenues, based on takings for the equivalent period last year as reported by The Wrap.

Andrew Lloyd-Webber has already postponed the opening of his new musical Cinderella from August to October, blaming coronavirus.

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