LONDON — At 8:30 p.m. on Monday, two associates had been huddling outdoors St. Martin’s Theater in London’s West End doing one thing nobody has for 14 months: arguing throughout the intermission over who was the assassin in “The Mousetrap,” Agatha Christie’s long-running whodunit.
“I’m convinced it’s the posh woman who runs the hotel,” mentioned Lockie Chapman, 40, a singer, earlier than instantly altering his thoughts.
“Actually, it’s the major!” he mentioned. “Or how about that shifty Italian dude?” he added.
“The shifty Italian dude?” replied Rah Petherbridge, 37. “But he could be a red herring!”
Such debates have rung out outdoors the “The Mousetrap” ever because it debuted in 1952, however these accompanying the present’s 28,two hundredth efficiency on Monday had been important. They marked the reopening of the West End.
Since March final yr, when the coronavirus pandemic shut down Britain, the nation’s theaters have been successfully darkish. Just a few exhibits, together with “The Mousetrap,” tried to return again final fall, just for a second lockdown to maintain them from even making it to rehearsals.
Several tried once more in December, together with “Six,” the hit musical in regards to the wives of Henry VIII, however they managed only a handful of performances earlier than they had been shut as soon as extra. Theaters needed to carry out to online audiences in the event that they needed to maintain working.
Monday’s comeback felt prefer it was really everlasting, 15 viewers members mentioned in interviews, many highlighting Britain’s speedy vaccination marketing campaign as the explanation for his or her optimism. (Over 55 p.c of the British inhabitants has received at least one dose, a better proportion than within the United States.) A small however worrying surge in coronavirus circumstances in Britain, linked to a variant first identified in India, didn’t dampen their temper.
“I really think we’re back for good this time,” mentioned Matthew Lumby, 48, a civil servant. “I wouldn’t be certain we’ll be without face masks for a while, but if wearing one’s the price of being back in a theater again, it’s a small one to pay.”
The temper was related on the close by Royal Opera House, which additionally reopened on Monday, with Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito.” “I feel confident this time it’s for good,” mentioned Katie Connor, 40, as a number of big Rolls Royces pulled up with glamorous operagoers.
“I’m just so happy to be back,” she added. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to ugly-cry for the whole two hours and 25 minutes of the show.”
England’s theaters usually are not instantly allowed to return to their prepandemic state. For now, exhibits can open solely at 50 p.c capability, and viewers members should put on face masks all through performances.
Social-distancing guidelines are speculated to be eliminated June 21, permitting full capability, however on Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the date might be pushed back due to the latest rise in circumstances.
“I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress,” Johnson mentioned.
It could be “financially bumpy” for “The Mousetrap” if distancing weren’t eliminated quickly, mentioned Adam Spiegel, the present’s producer, however he insisted that he would maintain the present open it doesn’t matter what, to provide the actors and crew work. “It’s the right thing to do,” he mentioned.
Several different main West End exhibits are reopening this week, together with “Six” and “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” a success musical a couple of boy’s makes an attempt to turn into a drag queen, with a bunch of others to return throughout England in coming months. But on Monday, the highlight was left largely to “The Mousetrap,” which holds a Guinness world file for the longest-running play.
It was “a bit bizarre” for “The Mousetrap” to be on the vanguard of theater’s return, Spiegel mentioned. Critics have been calling it “an anachronism” since at least the 1970s, missing the technical bells and whistles one would anticipate of a contemporary manufacturing. But Spiegel mentioned that it was the most effective play to reopen the West End, because it had turn into an emblem of town.
“It’s been through all the ups and downs of British life of the last 70 years: terrorism, economic recessions, this,” he mentioned. “There’s not a scientific answer to why it should be first. It just feels right.”
The play hadn’t wanted a lot rewriting to reduce coronavirus dangers, besides the removing of 1 kiss, Spiegel mentioned. Agatha Christie wrote the play simply after World War II, he added, when British folks “weren’t that kissy-wissy.”
“So it fortunately lends itself quite well to social distancing,” he added.
Backstage, although, there had been a couple of modifications. Two casts had been employed, so if one has to isolate, the opposite can step in. Cast and crew additionally needed to keep distant, which meant the present’s wind machine may now not be used, because the individual working it might have needed to stand subsequent to an actor backstage.
Other exhibits are adopting related measures. On Monday, the director Michael Longhurst began rehearsals for a revival of Nick Payne’s relationship drama “Constellations” on the Donmar Warehouse. He employed 4 two-person casts — together with well-known names like Zoë Wanamaker — to attempt to make sure that the present wouldn’t undergo any coronavirus-induced closures, he mentioned. “It’s such a complicated balancing act for every production,” he added.
Other theaters throughout England are equally centered on small exhibits with decrease coronavirus dangers for now. The Theater Royal in Bath in southwestern England, as an example, is reopening May 25 not with a play, however with Ralph Fiennes performing T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.” The efficiency will then journey round England.
England’s theatrical reopening places it forward of Europe’s different main theater facilities. In Paris, theaters could open from Wednesday, however they need to end by 9 p.m. and are allowed solely 35 p.c capability. Some theaters have mentioned that they will’t reopen underneath these circumstances. Others have mentioned that they will’t as a result of they’re occupied by college students protesting a lack of support for arts employees.
In Berlin, theaters are additionally allowed to reopen on Wednesday, however solely outdoor.
In the West End, most theater homeowners and producers appear joyful to just accept restrictions, together with the potential use of coronavirus passports to ensure entry. “Whatever is necessary to restart people’s ability to enjoy theater I’m OK with,” Spiegel, of “The Mousetrap,” mentioned.
Many within the trade understand that it will likely be a very long time earlier than theaters are again to their previous selves, using hundreds of freelancers. Some job losses are solely simply rising. In April, The Stage, Britain’s theater newspaper, reported that “The Phantom of the Opera” would reopen July 27 however solely with its touring orchestration, chopping the variety of musicians virtually in half, to 14, from 27.
“It sets a bad precedent for the whole sector,” Dan West, a trombonist who performed within the present earlier than the pandemic, mentioned in a phone interview. “Every small producer will say, ‘If they don’t need brass, I don’t,’” he added.
During “The Mousetrap” on Monday, any worries appeared removed from folks’s minds. Many viewers members took off their masks to sip drinks throughout the present, then left them off as the strain ramped up onstage, with Detective Sergeant Trotter (Paul Hilliar) quizzing eight potential murderers.
Eventually, the perpetrator was revealed, and several other viewers members gasped. “See, I told you!” one shouted, being shushed by these round him.
“The Mousetrap” ended simply had it had for each certainly one of its earlier 28,199 performances. “Thank you so much for your unbelievably warm reception this evening,” Hilliar mentioned, after a standing ovation from the half-full theater.
“Now, you are our partners in crime,” he added, “and we ask you to keep the secret of whodunit locked in your hearts.”