When cinemas, theatres and art galleries will reopen after lockdown

Lockdown measures have begun to be gradually lifted, as some degree of normality returns over the spring and summer. There will be four phases to the easing of restrictions, but where do the arts fit in?

When will theatres reopen?

Indoor performances will resume on or around May 17, as part of Step Three of the Government’s plan, with capacity  limited to up to 1,000 people. Normal outdoor performances of up to 4,000 attendees, as well as seated outdoor performances for up to 10,000 attendees, can also resume.

Larger indoor performances will be back no earlier than June 21, as part of Step Four. The Prime Minister also suggested that rapid testing might be introduced as part of the return of larger performances.

Hairspray at the Coliseum is  scheduled to open to the general public in June, while Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella and The Prince of Egypt will open in July. Some other big West End shows have postponed their planning openings for this year, including Sister Act, Frozen, and Get Up, Stand Up: The Bob Marley Musical. 

Social distancing will remain in place until at least June 21. It has a decisive effect on whether shows are financially viable or not, since it reduces the audience capacity dramatically, in some cases to one-third or less. Most shows need around 70 to 80 per cent of seats filled merely to break even. As a result, if social distancing continues into mid-summer or later, many venues might delay re-opening, as they work out whether they can actually afford to keep putting on shows with reduced audiences, or whether it’s best to wait and save their resources for now.

Inside the auditorium, audiences should expect most Covid precautions to remain in place – such as compulsory mask-wearing during performances, the use of e-tickets and card payments rather than cash, one-way systems and frequent use of hand sanitiser. It is not yet clear whether venues will require any proof of vaccine, or will continue to do temperature checks at the door as they did in 2020.

READ MORE: The roadmap for theatre is too cautious, too vague, and possibly too late

When will cinemas reopen?

Cinemas will re-open from May but mask wearing will be still be enforced

Cinemas will re-open from May but mask wearing will be still be enforced

Credit: Heathcliff O’Malley

Drive-in cinemas can reopen from April 12, while indoor cinemas will return on May 17 or soon after.

The range of films on offer will most likely feel bare compared to pre-Covid times but song-delayed blockbusters including Top Gun: Maverick, starring Tom Cruise, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical In The Heights, and Marvel’s Black Widow, which have all moved to mid-summer releases, will capitalise on the timing. The much delayed Bond film, No Time to Die, however, is unlikely to brought forward from its current November date.

The experience for cinemagoers will likely be similar to 2020. Most chains were maintaining social-distancing measures across all areas within the cinema, and offering hand sanitiser to all ticket holders and employees, while toilets were stocked with anti-bacterial hand soap and staff had been given stringent hand-washing guidelines.

Since last year, booking systems have been updated to allow friends and family to sit together while ensuring a safe distance between customers from different households in the auditoria. Start and end times for films were being staggered to regulate crowding, and one-way systems operated throughout the buildings. Face coverings were mandatory.

READ MORE:  Cinemas are safer than shops – the science does not support keeping them shut till May

When will art galleries and museums reopen?

Major London venues like the National Gallery are expected to be back from May 17

Major London venues like the National Gallery are expected to be back from May 17

Credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas

Museums will be able to re-open from May 17; while art galleries were not specifically mentioned in the announcement, it is assumed that they will also re-open then. Jean Dubuffet: Brutal Beauty at the Barbican will open on May 17; Matthew Barney: Redoubt and Igshaan Adams: Kicking Dust at the Hayward Gallery will open on May 19.

Major spring and summer exhibitions, like the V&A’s Alice, Whitechapel Gallery’s Eileen Agar and Tate Modern’s Rodin, are expected to open from the earliest possible dates. Mask wearing, limited advanced booking and social distancing measures will remain in place until at least June 21.

When will concerts and gigs start again?

Big outdoor concerts will be back this summer, with or without social distancing

Big outdoor concerts will be back this summer, with or without social distancing

Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA

Indoor concerts of up to 1,000 attendees, outdoor performances of up to 4,000, and seated outdoor performances of up to 10,000 can resume from May 17, while larger indoor and non-seated outdoor performances could be back from June 21. Pilot events to gauge the feasibility of that timescale will be running from April.

This looks like excellent news for summer music festivals. While Glastonbury had to cancel its 2021 plans, many other major events, including Reading and Leeds, The Isle of Wight, and Wireless, have packed line-ups and tickets on sale now.


Thanks to bubble systems and regular testing, many shows resumed production in 2020 and have continued into the new year. Last May, the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and other British broadcasters agreed a set of guidelines for the safe operation of sets, and these are expected to remain in place for the time being.

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