‘If you wish to cease theatre, you’ll should arrest us’

The world premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the world’s most profitable composer of musicals, £6 million Cinderella relies on social distancing being lifted, in accordance with the Authorities’s “roadmap”, on June 21, a promised milestone that appears more and more unsure.

But, Lloyd Webber has issued a defiant announcement: “We’re going to open, come hell or excessive water”. What if the Authorities calls for a postponement? “We are going to say: come to the theatre and arrest us.”

We will see. Or lets? What ought to be the blissful conclusion to a inventive journey that started in earnest in 2018, earlier than being diverted by the pandemic (Cinderella was initially attributable to open final August) is as soon as once more in query. No present of this scale, with a bank-busting ensemble of 34, is commercially viable whereas attendances stay capped at 50 per cent of capability.

Regardless of the success of the vaccine rollout, the temper music has immediately modified, and official warning is as soon as once more within the ascendant. Lloyd Webber questions the justification for this. “I’ve seen the science from the assessments, don’t ask me how,” he says. “All of them show that theatres are fully protected, the virus isn’t carried there. If the Authorities ignore their very own science, we’ve the mom of all authorized instances in opposition to them. If Cinderella couldn’t open, we’d go, ‘Look, both we go to legislation about it otherwise you’ll should compensate us’.”

The stakes might hardly be greater. It prices Lloyd Webber £1 million a month simply to maintain his six theatres darkish. He has remortgaged his London dwelling – a townhouse in Belgravia, which he shares along with his third spouse, Madeleine, mom to 3 of his 5 kids – and has reportedly borrowed greater than £50 million, though he refuses to verify that determine in the present day. In line with The Sunday Instances Wealthy Checklist his private web value has tumbled by £275 million in a yr, to £525 million.

Extra challenges lie forward. He has two different exhibits ready within the wings: a brand new manufacturing of The Phantom of the Opera, the West Finish’s second longest-running present after Les Misérables, is ready to take over the refurbished Her Majesty’s Theatre from July 27; whereas a revival of Joseph can also be due on the Palladium that month. Then, as proprietor of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London’s oldest playhouse, he’s additionally poised to unveil a £60 million renovation in time for the UK stage premiere of Disney’s Frozen in August. All of which leaves Lloyd Webber ready he describes as “acute monetary stress. I don’t suppose [the Government] perceive it. We’ve by no means taken any revenue out of the theatres. I’ve all the time tried to place again in, which is why we’re in a muddle now as a result of we by no means had an enormous reserve.”

For months, he has been a proactive however pliable collaborator with officialdom, on the within observe earlier than information spilled out. Final yr, he says, he “knew on February 2 from a supply in Authorities that it was very probably there can be a lockdown. I obtained a coded message despatched to me – ‘Pleased birthday!’ – from somebody at a gathering.” So Lloyd Webber gathered his employees and stated: “‘OK, people, we’re going to have to shut down, we’ve to get a doomsday state of affairs in place.’ And folks stated, ‘You’re off your trolley!’” Six weeks later, the Prime Minister suggested the nation to “keep away from pubs, golf equipment, theatres and different such social venues”, successfully bringing down the curtain on stay leisure.

Now, Lloyd Webber’s persistence is being stretched to breaking level. “Sadly,” he says, “the Authorities regards theatre as a pleasant factor to have fairly than a necessity.” Other than Dowden, he has had no dealings with the highest brass. “I don’t know Boris in any respect,” he remarks, with some acidity. “He has proven no real interest in getting in contact.”

This isn’t the primary time Lord Lloyd-Webber, 73, has criticised these calling for a delay in reopening.

Final week he stated that he might take authorized motion if his theatres aren’t allowed to welcome again crowds at full capability.

Andrew Lloyd Webber: ‘If you want to stop theatre, you’ll have to arrest us’