After more than a year of no audiences, a popular Northampton theatre is finally able to reopen on Monday (May 17).
Royal & Derngate in Guildhall Road, will return on the day indoor venues are allowed to reopen with a youth theatre performance, before a full programme resumes later in the year.
Chief executive of Royal & Derngate, Jo Gordon, said: “We are really excited. It was so fantastic to get that news that it was going ahead as planned.
“The building has been a really busy but happy place this week as we put finishing touches on everything, not just the shows but our building and our Covid safety processes too.
“We had a brilliant day on Wednesday as we had our team of volunteers back in. They are so crucial to us being able to run the shows.
“It felt like a real moment to have them back. We’ve missed that extended Royal & Derngate family so much.”
The theatre has implemented a number of safety measures, including staggered arrival times to avoid queuing, touch-free tickets, sanitising stations, a one-way system, mask requirements, track and trace, pre-ordering drinks via email for pre-show pick-ups, no intervals and socially distanced seating, meaning each party - or bubble - will be separated by a number of seats to the side, in front and behind.
For the time being, the theatre is operating at 50 percent capacity, which will mean up to 200 audience members in The Royal for the first youth theatre productions this month of Animal Farm and Othello.
In June, some concerts are booked for The Derngate, which can hold up to 500 audience members at half capacity.
Jo added: “We’re still the same theatre people know and love but we’ve had to make a few changes to the way things work.
“From the autumn we then start to get a full programme, although we do a few in the summer.
“Priscilla is coming in August and I think that will be a good, fun show to come back to.
“It has a huge audience waiting for it as people have been great in keeping their tickets.
“It will feel pretty special for people who have been coming here for years and years to get back.”
The drive-in cinema from next weekend is in place for audience members who may not be confident enough to return just yet, which Jo says is completely understandable.
However, she wants to reassure anyone who is thinking about returning to the indoor venue that her team has done everything they can to make it a safe environment.
“I just want them to know about the care that has been taken in getting the building ready and the processes ready,” Jo continued.
“They will be hand-held all the way through the experience and there will be lots of opportunities to ask questions.
“It’s a very clean and a very safe space as we are aware of our responsibilities to keep everyone safe.
“The box office is also on hand if they are nervous beforehand and want to ask questions, but I’d say just give it a go.”
Visit the Royal & Derngate website to view the 2021 schedule so far and to buy tickets.