Northampton theatre bosses excited by ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ as they hope to be at audience capacity by September

Socially distanced audiences and community groups should be back at both the Royal & Derngate and The Deco by June

Thursday, 25th February 2021, 6:00 am

Following the Prime Minister’s road map out of lockdown announcement, which has given the entertainment industry more hope than it has had for almost a year, Northampton’s theatres are gearing up to finally reopen.

Bosses from the Royal & Derngate and The Deco have spoken to Chronicle & Echo about their plans for reopening and have expressed how excited they are to welcome audiences back.

Both hope to be back to full capacity audiences by September, but are aware of challenges to overcome beforehand.

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Full audiences will hopefully be back at Royal & Derngate and The Deco by September this year.

The Royal & Derngate is intending to open spaces such as those used by community groups by the end of May, and then socially distanced shows can follow.

Jo Gordon, chief executive of the organisation, said: “We are feeling much more hopeful, and to see theatres and entertainment represented as part of the road map was fantastic.

“There are still a lot of questions that we need to ask and we are conscious around the dates, but it has given the whole sector a lift.

“The film house was open for two weeks before this lockdown and we had a fantastic response, so that is tried, tested and ready to go.

The road map out of lockdown.

“For the theatre spaces, we are looking at socially distanced events from June onwards.

“The whole building has been closed for such a long time and teams have been working remotely or on furlough, so the road map is also about getting staff back together.

“It’s about doing all these steps safely and confidently and then starting to work with artists and creatives again.

“We are also desperate to get freelancers back to work as they have been so overlooked.”

While a live show has not been performed on the stages at Royal & Derngate for nearly a year, there have been several online shows as well as other virtual activities.

According to Jo, the online aspects have been ‘exciting developments’, which will remain in place as the theatre goes through a ‘blended opening’.

Although the road map refers to large crowds by June 21, the chief executive is looking at September to return to full capacity.

Jo added: “We have a brilliant autumn programme lined up, most of which has been moved from last autumn, with big musicals and comedy names.

“We want to be at the heart of the recovery of the town. We want to provide something extraordinary and give audiences some special moments as we emerge from the pandemic.

“But that’s not just about watching shows, it’s also about being involved in the community.

“The building is so much about the shows, but it is about so much more than that too.

“It’s used by 20,000 children and young people community groups and they are the other things that have been really missed across the last year.”

Just a few streets away, bosses at The Deco are also working on reopening plans following the road map announcement.

The Abington Square theatre was able to open for a period of time during eased lockdown last year and was even able to get a socially distanced audience into the theatre for a pantomime run.

Now the staff are looking forward to working towards a larger audience and eventually getting back to ‘normal’.

Kevin Roach, chief executive of The Deco, said: “There is now a light at the end of the tunnel. Previously there has not been.

“We’re not like a shop or a pub where you can just open the doors, we have to work out the logistics, so it will not be instantaneous.

“We will not be able to open up and be back to normal, but the new guidelines have given us time to get stuff in place.

“When we are hopefully allowed to reopen in May, we will be able to have groups back into the function rooms and the idea is to expand on that.

“We will be able to achieve these things before getting shows on.”

Most of the shows scheduled from January to May have already been rescheduled, but Kevin is hoping to get shows with a socially distanced audience back by the end of May or the start of June.

With a reduced audience, The Deco can hold 350 people, including keeping one row between audience members, but by September, Kevin is also hoping to be back to full audiences.

Kevin added: “We do have a packed autumn programme with loads of shows that want to come back after they had to be postponed last year.

“Our panto for this year is also selling really well. I think because we got our panto on last year, people have faith that we will carry on this year.

“We are really well geared up for social distancing and ready to go with it again.

“I think it’s going to take time and I think the social distancing measures will be in place for a few months to help people settle in again.

“Then maybe in time we’ll be able to reduce to a one metre distance

“We are hoping to be back to full capacity by September, so by panto we hope to be back to normal.”

Visit both of the theatre’s websites to find out what shows are planned in the autumn programmes.

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