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Back on London stage: 'A Christmas Carol' opens to smaller, distanced audience

LONDON: Opening its doors to a live audience for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March, London's Dominion Theatre is getting ready to put on a socially distanced, concert-style production of musical "A Christmas Carol". 

    The more than 2,000-seat theatre will be able to host fewer than 1,000 per show and the 28 cast members will remain apart on stage.

"Everyone is wearing masks all the time, even in rehearsals, even when we're singing. The cast are socially distanced on stage during the production," producer Freddie Tapner told Reuters.

    British actor and comedian Brian Conley takes on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, the miserly protagonist of the popular Charles Dickens Christmas story, a staple of London's theatreland during the festive season.

    Conley said he was delighted to be back in front of a live audience and felt safe doing the production.

"A live audience is where it's at, it's where you live in the moment. You come alive," he told Reuters.

    British theatres have been hit hard by the pandemic. More than 15,000 theatrical performances were cancelled in the first 12 weeks of lockdown with a loss of more than 300 million pounds (US$400 million) in box office revenue, according to a parliamentary committee report in July.

    Despite the British government's 1.57-billion-pound rescue package for the arts, some in the industry feel there has not been enough support.

"I think everyone's really felt this year, I don't know, left in the cold in some way ... underappreciated," said Matt Jay-Wills, who plays Scrooge's mistreated clerk Bob Cratchit.

He said the performers were grateful to be working. "I've never seen a cast so committed in my life. It's brilliant."

Tapner said due to the limited number of seats on sale, the production, produced by The London Musical Theatre Orchestra, is not expected to make money - but the show will go on. 

    "We have made that decision because we want to put theatre on this Christmas," he said.

Conley said he hoped the show would take the audience away from any coronavirus cares "and just have a moment of Christmas spirit, of love".

    "A Christmas Carol" runs from Dec. 7 to Jan. 2.

(Reporting by Sarah Mills, Ben Makori; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Alexandra Hudson)

Source: Reuters