The lifting of restrictions in England was repeatedly hailed as “Freedom Day” by those inside the government – and in the live performance industry.

For the first time for the best part of 18 months, English theatres, gig venues and clubs could pack people into their rooms with no legal requirement for them to wear masks or socially distance.

But the chaos set in almost immediately – with a day of celebration for some becoming a day of confusion and heartbreak for others.

Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of the biggest proponents of getting theatres open, had to shutter his brand new show Cinderella, after just one case of coronavirus in the 35-strong cast last weekend.

The “pingdemic” had taken down the West End’s biggest impresario before he had chance to formally show off his new multimillion pound body of work.

It was of course a feat (and a risk) in itself to debut a big musical during a global health crisis and in an impassioned news conference at his theatre, Lord Lloyd Webber laid the blame at the front door of Number 10, saying the current system of isolation has brought his beloved industry “to its knees”.

Speaking to Sky News on Thursday, the peer said that he believes that vaccine passports could be the future of trying to solve this problem and testing will become common place in his theatres – but that may not solve the issue of isolating casts.

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Vaccine passports for theatres ‘inevitable’

After falling through the trap door, Cinderella will continue previews on the 18 August before opening fully on 25 August – likely in the hope that COVID-19 cases start to decrease across the country and lessen the threat for his show.

But it wasn’t just Lord Lloyd Webber who has been affected by the dreaded COVID app alerts.

Kenneth Branagh’s production of The Browning Version at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith was shelved after an “increasing number of COVID-enforced absences” during rehearsals, meaning the mixture of self-isolating individuals and those who caught the virus meant it was left with no time to get the show on stage.

And on Friday, the Young Vic put out a statement saying “We’ve been pinged”, announcing that its first preview of Changing Destiny had been pushed back until the following week due to isolation requirements.

However, Hairspray, which had to pause for more than a week after cast members were forced to isolate, has employed a clever tactic to avoid any more disruption – hiring more staff.

The ’60s musical has taken on a new set of cast members who will not head to the theatre unless they’re needed, meaning if one member of the team tests positive and takes out everyone else – the show can still run with its backup, yet still very talented, cast.

It wasn’t just the West End that had its COVID bubble burst either – the touring production of the ever-popular Six had to skip its stop in Hull when some cast members tested positive, forcing the entire company into isolation.

Even the local theatre in Babbacombe in Devon had to cancel a week of shows, after the cast of its summer show were told to isolate.

TV and film productions that were shooting in various parts of the UK were also halted last week with Netflix’s Bridgerton shutting down filming for its second season for the second time, while the streamer’s version of Matilda The Musical also had to partially pause its project – both because of COVID and self-isolation.

And even the Targaryens couldn’t avoid the pandemic, with HBO’s Game Of Thrones spin-off House Of The Dragon also shutting down for a few days after a positive test.

But for some there was elation at the new lack of restrictions.

A number of venues hailed their new-found freedom by, cautiously, opening their auditoriums to as many people as possible – with plenty of West End and local productions finding their way on stage.

At the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday, there was an explosion of song and dance as nearly 200 people got on stage to take part in a Best Of The West End show – featuring the likes of West End giants Mica Paris, John Owen Jones and Ben Forster.

I was lucky enough to be invited to watch and while the show was exciting and, in some parts, emotional, the arena wasn’t full – a reminder that while restrictions have been legally lifted, not everyone is rushing back to venues.

With only a small let-up in the rise in cases towards the end of the week, it could still be some time before the sector finds its feet – and we could still see more parts of the industry be forced into the wings.

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