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Andrew Lloyd Webber: The arts are at a ‘point of no return’

Warning: Andrew Lloyd Webber PICTURE: PA

THE arts are in a desperate sitation after lockdown’s devastating effect on the sector, Andrew Lloyd Webber has warned — as theatre bosses said ‘Christmas is hanging in the balance’.

The Cats and Phantom Of The Opera composer told MPs it would be economically ‘impossible’ for shows to return with social distancing in place.

It comes after the theatre impresario spent £100,000 on a pilot project at the London Palladium, which he hoped would show theatres could open at full capacity — but had to leave some seats empty to comply with rules.

‘We simply have to get our arts sector back open and running. We are at the point of no return really,’ Lord Lloyd-Webber, 72, told parliament’s culture committee.

‘Theatre is an incredibly labour-intensive business. In many ways putting on a show now is almost a labour of love.

‘Very few shows hit the jackpot in the way a Hamilton, Lion King or Phantom Of The Opera do.’ He added: ‘I am absolutely confident that the air in the London Palladium and in all my theatres is purer than the air outside.’

And warning stage shows were ‘not like cinema, you can’t just open the building’, he said his production of Cinderella might have to move to somewhere ‘where people are being a little more helpful’.

Meanwhile, Rebecca Kane Burton, chief executive of Lord Lloyd-Webber’s LW Theatres, told the committee recent months had been ‘devastating and catastrophic’ for the arts sector, and ‘we need to find a way out of it’.

‘We don’t want to open theatres on a socially distanced basis. I have no intention of opening buildings at 30 per cent capacity,’ she said.

‘It was disheartening that the pilot wasn’t later seen as a way to getting full reopening.’

She added: ‘We need the time to plan. We can’t switch on theatre like a tap. Christmas is hanging in the balance.’

■ THE Royal Albert Hall has launched an appeal to raise £20million. The venue — due to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2021 — has lost £18million in income, refunded more than £6.5million in ticket sales and exhausted its reserves, chief executive Craig Hassall told the culture committee. Despite the venue being held up as a ‘crown jewel’ by the government, it was in an ‘extremely perilous position’, he added.