West End Facing Shutdown as U.K. Government Urges Theaters to Close

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson on Monday ramped up methods to fight the spread of the coronavirus, urging against non-essential contact.

The U.K. government has urged all theaters to close as part of ramped up efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The news was announced Monday amid escalating cases and deaths in the country, which experts have argued is just weeks behind Italy, Europe's worst affected nation. 

In the first of his daily coronavirus press briefings, prime minister Boris Johnson said it was time everybody in the U.K. stopped non-essential contact with others, including avoiding pubs, clubs and theaters. He added that the government was giving "very strong advice" that places like theaters should close, and that the government had the power to force such closures. However, he said he didn't think it would be necessary to use those powers.

The London theater community already had been bracing itself. On Sunday, The Old Vic announced that it was suspending the last two weeks of performances of Endgame, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Alan Cumming. On Monday, the Royal Court said it was ceasing performances and rehearsals and would be postponing its spring work.

Other popular venues like the Menier Chocolate Factory, the Bush Theatre and the Young Vic also suspended programming.

As recently as Friday, the Society of London Theatre, which represents around 50 theaters across the capital, was urging its venues to remain open while the coronavirus outbreak was being managed. "In urgent and uncertain times, theater can provide a much-needed boost and escape," said a March 13 statement on SOLT's website. West End shows continued to perform throughout the weekend.

But the rapidly evolving situation caused a policy reversal on Monday, with SOLT and its nationwide sister organization, U.K. Theatre, advising all major venues to go dark until further notice, effective immediately. The move follows a similar shutdown on Broadway, which went into effect March 12, with off-Broadway venues across New York swiftly following.

The Olivier Awards, the biggest night on the U.K.'s stage calendar, is still due to take place April 5 at Royal Albert Hall in London, but the new rulings over social contact could force this to move. The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to organizers.