With Omicron here, how safe do you feel making a trip to the panto?

Leah MacRae and Edinburgh's Greg McHugh aka Gary Tank Commander in AladdinLeah MacRae and Edinburgh's Greg McHugh aka Gary Tank Commander in Aladdin
Leah MacRae and Edinburgh's Greg McHugh aka Gary Tank Commander in Aladdin
Have you been to see a musical, a play or a panto recently? Quick question, how safe did you feel being back in a theatre?

Let us know what you think and join the conversation at the bottom of this article

As stories of productions closing either permanently or for two or three days here and there due to company members coming down with Covid are now making the headlines, the arrival of Omicron in theatre-land is no longer up for debate.

London's West End and off West End have seen a swathe of shows hit while here in Scotland St Andrew's Byre Theatre has already lowered the curtain on its production of Jack and the Beanstalk, citing "the current, rapidly evolving situation regarding the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19".

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Of course, some Scottish theatres had already made the call to roll over their 2021 panto to 2022 just as they had in 2020. Arbroath's Webster Theatre and The Tron in Glasgow being ahead of the curve.

Shows that have proceeded as planned have done so with various mitigations in place to make a visit to the theatre safer for actors and audiences alike.

Most casts and stage crews now operate in a tight bubble - people working front of house required to take a lateral flow test before an unavoidable backstage visit.

Regulations are in place for audiences too, although I find it bizarre there's no real industry standard, some venues enforcing stricter terms of entry than others.

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A trip to Glasgow recently, to see Les Miserables, saw a mostly mask compliant audience enjoy the return of the smash hit musical to Scotland. Tellingly, it's the only Cameron Mackintosh production currently on the road.

Staged in an ATG venue, attendees were required to enter by the door nearest their seat at a preordained time and to show either proof of vaccination or of a negative lateral flow test before admittance. I know at the Playhouse here in Edinburgh they have a discreet facility where tests can be done on arrival should you have none of the required paperwork.

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Other venues, however, insist on little more than masks throughout the performance and a verbal declaration that you’re well.

Safe as I feel in most theatres, the risk of Omicron has encouraged me to invest in a box of medical grade FFP2 face masks for when I’m reviewing, after all, it's panto season and if there's anywhere you’re going to catch something it's in a group of screaming kids.

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Of course, not everyone feels ready to return to such events just yet. It's important you are before you do venture back but I can't help feeling for the actors on stage. One theatre PR confided that it's only a matter of time before cast members get infected, producers factoring in the odd ‘Covid closure’ into their plans.

The fact that casts are living in bubbles reduce that chance of infection but can’t be fun and I hope that one day Edinburgh’s Greg McHugh, best known as Gary Tank Commander (see him in Aladdin at the SEC Glasgow), will get to write about the experience after he tweeted: 'One day, I’ll write about the highly complex feelings of performing a panto in the midst of a pandemic.’

That would indeed be a unique insight from the other side of the proscenium arch.

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