West End theatres cancel weekday performances in favour of Sunday matinees

A photograph of the two leading performers, on stage, in the West End show The Phantom of the Opera – Johan Persson

West End shows are turning to Sunday matinees and scaling back their weekday performances in a bid to lure people back to the theatre.

Midweek matinees were popular with foreign tourists and domestic daytrippers, but the pandemic put paid to both.

Sunday, traditionally a day of rest for theatre performers, is now being promoted as the perfect day for a trip to the theatre.

Two of the West End’s biggest new musicals – Disney’s Frozen, at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and Back to the Future, which opened at the Adelphi Theatre this week – will have Sunday matinees and fewer midweek shows.

The Phantom of the Opera and Hamilton have dropped midweek matinees altogether, while The Lion King will only offer them during school holidays.

Around three-quarters of West End productions are now back up and running after Covid restrictions were lifted, with the remainder opening later this month or next. Thirty of them are offering Sunday matinees.

The arrangement was made possible after a deal struck with unions in October, agreeing that performers would forego additional Sunday pay.

A photograph of the two lead performers in West End show Back to the Future – Sean Ebsworth Barnes

A spokesperson for the Society of London Theatre said: “Shows are offering Sunday performances because it’s a family-friendly time and more people are able to get into central London at the weekend – we want to encourage as many people back to the theatre as possible.”

There are fewer weekday matinees to accommodate this new Sunday schedule, the spokesperson added.

However, it is not just family shows hoping to attract Sunday audiences. 2:22 A Ghost Story, which stars Lily Allen and is currently one of the West End’s hottest tickets, has matinee performances on Wednesdays, Saturday and Sundays.

Back to the Future’s producer, Colin Ingram, said he was considering dropping Wednesday performances. “Until we get proper air corridors opened between the UK and the US, Asia, Scandinavia – big points of tourism interested in the West End – things are going to be quite tough,” he told the Guardian.

Prior to the pandemic, 30 per cent of West End audiences were from overseas. Around 40 per cent of overnight visitors to London went to the theatre.

Advance ticket sales for the big West End shows are healthy, the Society of London Theatre said. Back to the Future’s preview performances were at 99 per cent capacity.

This weekend will see Trafalgar Square transformed into an open air theatre for West End Live, a promotional event featuring performers and excerpts from a host of shows including Matilda the Musical, Jersey Boys, Les Misérables and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella.

It is free to attend, but all adults will have to show proof of their vaccination status or the results of a recent lateral flow or PCR test to gain entry.

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