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Why gatherings of 500+?

It’s hard to think of anything to write about theatre which is not Coronavirus-related so here goes – with the caveat that I’m writing this 24 hours ahead of scheduled post time so that by the time you read this, it may already be out of date.

Last week I saw and reviewed The Tempest at Jermyn Street – and I’m glad I did because it’s a fine production. I thought very carefully about whether or not I should go but decided that it should be business as usual for as long as possible. I simply tried not to touch things or people more than I could help. Pret in Lower Regents Street where I had a sandwich first was deserted and closed earlier than its advertised time and the streets were uncannily quiet for a Friday evening.

Jermyn Street Theatre, however, was full for press night. Artistic Director, Tom Littler, thanked people at the beginning for coming and told us he and his colleagues were following government advice fully.

Then the next morning we were told that public gatherings will probably be banned this week so that presumably means no more review jobs for the duration – and almost certainly not the Globe (matinee) Macbeth and The Marriage of Figaro at ENO on Thursday. Shakespeare would have understood … how many times were theatres closed by plague in his lifetime?

I am puzzled, though. What is so magical about the number 500? Surely Covid-19 is passed from one person to another? So wherever “two or three are gathered together” as the Bible puts it, there must be a danger. It’s going to be a bit odd if people can sit in close proximity, share lavatories and bars at , say, Above the Stag or the Donmar but not at Covent Garden or the Palladium.

I am in the age group that the government, apparently, regards as an economic nuisance. It would suit them, it seems, if I and my contemporaries were killed off by a “population balancing” virus.

Well actually I’m not a burden to anybody. I’m still working and paying taxes – exactly as the government, wearing a different hat – wants me to. And I plan to go on doing so as long as I possibly can because it happens to suit me.

Meanwhile I shall follow health advice and be careful. I shall continue to go out working while it’s “permitted” and I can do a lot of interviews and the like on the phone.  If soon, we really are all told, like the Italians, simply to stay at home, then of course I shall comply. In fact it will be a good opportunity to finish my play – and cheaper than a writing retreat.   Always look on the bright side? Sometimes easier than others.

And of course an easier situation for some people to weather than others. I am desperately sorry for freelance workers everywhere – and especially performers and creatives – whose livelihoods are threatened.

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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