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Andrew Lloyd-Webber joins legal action against UK government

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Andrew Lloyd Webber (L) guides Britain’s Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall as she visits the Theatre Royal Drury Lane following its refurbishment in London on June 23, 2021. (Photo by Tim P. Whitby / POOL / AFP)

Theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd-Webber on Thursday joined legal action against the UK government ultimately aimed at bringing back crowds to theatres and cinema halls.

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He joined senior figures from Britain’s entertainment sector and live music trade body Live to force the release of data from a project testing the safe return of mass events.

High-profile events such as football’s FA Cup final and music’s BRIT Awards ceremony have formed part of the Events Research Programme, which scraps social distancing if participants test negative before entry.

Lloyd-Webber, whose hits have played in London’s West End theatre district and Broadway in New York, said: “We must see the data that is being used to strangle our industry so unfairly.”

The move comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson postponed the lifting of England’s remaining lockdown restrictions from June 21 to July 19 due to a surge in the Delta variant of the virus first identified in India.

Theatres and cinemas in England can only operate at half their capacity under current rules, making many productions unviable and reducing profit margins, while nightclubs remain shut.

In contrast, the government has allowed 60,000 spectators to attend the semi-finals and final of the Euro 2020 football tournament at London’s Wembley Stadium — 75 percent of its capacity — under the programme.

“The government’s actions are forcing theatre and music companies off a cliff, whilst cherry-picking high-profile sporting events to go ahead. The situation is beyond urgent,” Lloyd-Webber said.

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The events were “a huge success” and showed that “with proper precautions in place, live events at full capacity can go ahead safely,” the group added in a statement.

The campaigners also sought an insurance scheme for live events and new rules for productions where a staff member tests positive for coronavirus.

Johnson’s official spokesman acknowledged that delaying the easing of restrictions was “challenging” for live events but said the state had provided £2 billion ($2.8 billion, 2.3 billion euros) to support the arts sector.

Lloyd-Webber last week rejected an offer for one of his shows to be part of the government’s pilot scheme.

The composer of “Cats” and “Evita” had previously challenged the authorities to arrest him and vowed “come hell or high water” to put on “Cinderella” — his first musical in six years — despite the extension of restrictions.

The coronavirus pandemic has acutely harmed Britain’s theatre industry, which generated revenues of almost £800 million and attracted more than 15 million visitors in 2019.

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