(Photo: Joan Marcus)

London theaters will see a four-week delay in plans to return to full capacity. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday that he would keep restrictions in place for the next four weeks in order to combat the spread of the new Delta variant of COVID-19 in England. This means London theaters will be required to operate at 50% capacity, or up to 1,000 people in the audience, until restrictions are changed, which leaders warn could have grave effects on the industry. 

The restrictions were originally scheduled to be lifted June 21. Several London theaters opened to socially distanced audiences on May 17, but major theater owners and producers have been looking for a return to full capacity in order to make the productions financially viable. 

The Broadway industry had been waiting for government clearance to reopen at 100% capacity. Gov. Cuomo recently gave approval for theaters and other venues to open at full capacity now, if the venues require proof of vaccination from patrons. 

Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, said Monday’s announcement would have “serious implications” for the theater industry. 

‘This delay not only impacts productions and theatres preparing to open in the next few weeks, but also shows currently running socially distanced which had planned to increase their capacity – and producers making the difficult decision whether to start rehearsals for shows due to open in late July or August, with thousands of jobs hanging in the balance,” Bird said in a press release. 

Bird said large, commercial productions are at a particular disadvantage, given the lack of government support the shows have received, compared to those subsidized by the government, and their higher running costs. 

During the announcement Monday, Johnson said the government would continue pilot programs for safety protocols in venues such as theaters, with mention of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cinderella.” However, specifics around the program remain unclear.

After an initial closure in March 2020, some London theaters were able to return with social distancing this fall, before facing a second closure. Some theaters tried again in December 2020, before facing another lockdown. 

Bird urged greater government support for the industry, as well as confirmation that restrictions will now be lifted on July 19 and that the date will be “irreversible.”