Andrew Lloyd Webber has rejected Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s offer for his musical Cinderella to be included in a pilot scheme for live events.
Earlier this week Mr Johnson said he was in talks with Lord Lloyd-Webber about including the West End show in the scheme, saying he will “do whatever we can to be helpful”.
Lord Lloyd-Webber was criticised by a Government source after he rejected the offer on Friday.
They said they were “bemused” by his “baffling” decision, adding that he had previously provisionally registered to take part in the pilot scheme.
Lord Lloyd-Webber, who quit as a Conservative peer in 2017, said in a statement theatre had been treated as “an afterthought and undervalued”.
He added: “I have made it crystal clear that I would only be able to participate if others were involved and the rest of the industry – theatre and music – were treated equally. This has not been confirmed to me.
“It has become clear that, while sporting events like Wimbledon had obviously been working with the Government for some time on this pilot, and were even able to start selling tickets yesterday, the theatre industry and its audiences is, once again, an afterthought and undervalued.”
He said the production, which is being staged at the Gillian Lynne Theatre, would open on June 25 with an audience capacity of 50%.
The composer previously said he would be prepared to be arrested in order to fully reopen his theatres on June 21 in the event of a delay to the easing of lockdown restrictions.
However, on Friday he said if he went ahead with the plan it “would be very likely that every member of my cast, crew and orchestra, the front and backstage staff, plus our loyal audience members, could be individually fined hundreds of pounds, which I couldn’t possibly risk”.
He added: “If it were just me, I would happily risk arrest and fines to make a stand and lead the live music and theatre industry back to the full capacities we so desperately need.”
Lord Lloyd-Webber said he “could not look my young cast and crew in the eyes to tell them we were delaying or closing down” because of the delay to lockdown easing.
He said he would personally bear the losses until he can fully reopen the theatre at maximum capacity.
Cinderella “is the product of hundreds of people’s tireless effort for years”, he said, adding: “Win, lose or draw, we have to continue.”
Lord Lloyd-Webber also thanked the “thousands” of people who had contacted him to express their support, “including those who wanted to come and bring me cake in jail”.
The Government source said: “We are bemused that Andrew Lloyd Webber has decided not to take part in the ERP (Events Research Programme).
“This would have given him the opportunity to have audiences at 100% for Cinderella and at the same time play a crucial part for his sector in the fuller reopening.
“It’s baffling that he’s pulled out and is instead opening his theatre at 50% given all the noise he’s been making about opening fully and threatening to sue.
“It’s completely false that the arts and culture sector hasn’t been part of the ERP programme.
“We tested an array of settings including festivals, club nights, the Brits and the Crucible Theatre and are now in discussions with other theatres as part of the next phase of the programme.”
Mr Johnson revealed earlier this week that July 19 is the new date that has been earmarked for the lifting of the remaining coronavirus restrictions.
Lord Lloyd-Webber’s statement was welcomed by music industry trade body LIVE.
Greg Parmley, chief executive of the organisation, said in a statement: “The live music industry has spent months participating and paying for pilot events so we could reopen at full capacity safety.
“These events were a huge success and show, alongside every other international pilot, that with the right mitigations full capacity live events are safe.
“Despite this the Government has refused to publish this data, forced us to remain closed and then tried to hand-pick a number of high profile events to go ahead whilst the rest of our industries are devastated.”
Actors’ union Equity also welcomed the move by Lord Lloyd-Webber.
In a statement to the PA news agency, general secretary Paul W Fleming said: “What our industry needs right now is solidarity across the workforce and all producers, and it’s admirable that Andrew Lloyd Webber is continuing to stand with the whole sector on the issue of reopening.
“The Government needs to provide insurances, grants, and above all else a proper income support scheme for the self-employed to accompany any ongoing public health measures, as well as looking to decouple live performance from international travel and other unlocking elements.
“The risk here is acute – the loss of a workforce, and perhaps even the UK’s place as the pre-eminent global hub for theatre. Andrew Lloyd Webber knows that, and so does Equity.”
A spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “We are disappointed that Lord Lloyd-Webber has decided not to take part in the Events Research Programme, having engaged with his team on exactly the same basis as a wide range of other cultural and sporting events.
“We will be setting out details of the next stage of the programme very shortly, once all public health considerations have been finalised, and this will include a number of other theatres.
“This research will build on successful pilot events in the arts, music and sport sectors.”