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The lifting of restrictions in England was repeatedly hailed as “Freedom Day” by those inside the government – and in the live performance industry.

For the first time for the best part of 18 months, English theatres, gig venues and clubs could pack people into their rooms with no legal requirement for them to wear masks or socially distance.

But the chaos set in almost immediately – with a day of celebration for some becoming a day of confusion and heartbreak for others.

Cinderella. Pic: Tristram Kenton
Cinderella, played by Carrie Hope Fletcher, will not be going to the ball – yet. Pic: Tristram Kenton

Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of the biggest proponents of getting theatres open, had to shutter his brand new show Cinderella, after just one case of coronavirus in the 35-strong cast last weekend.

The “pingdemic” had taken down the West End’s biggest impresario before he had chance to formally show off his new multimillion pound body of work.

It was of course a feat (and a risk) in itself to debut a big musical during a global health crisis and in an impassioned news conference at his theatre, Lord Lloyd Webber laid the blame at the front door of Number 10, saying the current system of isolation has brought his beloved industry “to its knees”.

Speaking to Sky News on Thursday, the peer said that he believes that vaccine passports could be the future of trying to solve this problem and testing will become common place in his theatres – but that may not solve the issue of isolating casts.

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Vaccine passports for theatres ‘inevitable’

After falling through the trap door, Cinderella will continue previews on the 18 August before opening fully on 25 August – likely in the hope that COVID-19 cases start to decrease across the country and lessen the threat for his show.

But it wasn’t just Lord Lloyd Webber who has been affected by the dreaded COVID app alerts.

Kenneth Branagh’s production of The Browning Version at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith was shelved after an “increasing number of COVID-enforced absences” during rehearsals, meaning the mixture of self-isolating individuals and those who caught the virus meant it was left with no time to get the show on stage.

And on Friday, the Young Vic put out a statement saying “We’ve been pinged”, announcing that its first preview of Changing Destiny had been pushed back until the following week due to isolation requirements.

However, Hairspray, which had to pause for more than a week after cast members were forced to isolate, has employed a clever tactic to avoid any more disruption – hiring more staff.

The ’60s musical has taken on a new set of cast members who will not head to the theatre unless they’re needed, meaning if one member of the team tests positive and takes out everyone else – the show can still run with its backup, yet still very talented, cast.

It wasn’t just the West End that had its COVID bubble burst either – the touring production of the ever-popular Six had to skip its stop in Hull when some cast members tested positive, forcing the entire company into isolation.

Even the local theatre in Babbacombe in Devon had to cancel a week of shows, after the cast of its summer show were told to isolate.

TV and film productions that were shooting in various parts of the UK were also halted last week with Netflix’s Bridgerton shutting down filming for its second season for the second time, while the streamer’s version of Matilda The Musical also had to partially pause its project – both because of COVID and self-isolation.

And even the Targaryens couldn’t avoid the pandemic, with HBO’s Game Of Thrones spin-off House Of The Dragon also shutting down for a few days after a positive test.

But for some there was elation at the new lack of restrictions.

The Royal Albert Hall burst back to life - but its auditorium was not completely full
The Royal Albert Hall burst back to life – but its auditorium was not completely full

A number of venues hailed their new-found freedom by, cautiously, opening their auditoriums to as many people as possible – with plenty of West End and local productions finding their way on stage.

At the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday, there was an explosion of song and dance as nearly 200 people got on stage to take part in a Best Of The West End show – featuring the likes of West End giants Mica Paris, John Owen Jones and Ben Forster.

I was lucky enough to be invited to watch and while the show was exciting and, in some parts, emotional, the arena wasn’t full – a reminder that while restrictions have been legally lifted, not everyone is rushing back to venues.

With only a small let-up in the rise in cases towards the end of the week, it could still be some time before the sector finds its feet – and we could still see more parts of the industry be forced into the wings.

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Taylor Swift crowned Time magazine’s Person of the Year




Taylor Swift crowned Time magazine's Person of the Year

Taylor Swift has been named Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2023.

The music star, 33, told the publication: “This is the proudest and happiest I’ve ever felt, and the most creatively fulfilled and free I’ve ever been.

“Ultimately, we can convolute it all we want, or try to overcomplicate it, but there’s only one question: Are you not entertained?”

The Shake It Off singer beat a range of finalists to take the title, including Barbie, former US president Donald Trump’s prosecutors and the King.

It tops off a record-breaking year for Swift, and she has collected several other end-of-year awards.

People Magazine named her 2023’s most intriguing person of the year while Forbes awarded her the title of the world’s most powerful woman in media and entertainment.

The 12-time Grammy winner also became Spotify’s most-streamed artist globally, with her songs being streamed more than 26 billion times.

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She recently scored her seventh Grammy nomination for song of the year – overtaking Sir Paul McCartney and Lionel Richie.

Her Eras Tour is set to gross more than $1bn while the film version was the highest grossing concert film ever.

She also re-released new versions of her third and fifth albums Speak Now and 1989, which was sparked by a feud with music executive Scooter Braun over ownership of Swift’s masters.

Former Time Person of the Year winners in recent years include Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Elon Musk and Greta Thunberg.

Time’s editor-in-chief Sam Jacobs said on NBC’s Today programme: “Picking one person who represents the eight billion people on the planet is no easy task.

“We picked a choice that represents joy. Someone who’s bringing light to the world,” he said.

“She was like weather, she was everywhere.”

Time awards the title to “the individual, group, or concept that has had the most influence on the world throughout the previous 12 months.”

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US actors’ union SAG-AFTRA hails ‘enormous victory’ as it ratifies deal that ended strike




US actors' union SAG-AFTRA hails 'enormous victory' as it ratifies deal that ended strike

The US actors’ union has said the deal that ended its months-long strike was an “enormous victory” after it was ratified last night.

About 78% of SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) members voted in favour of the contract, with a turnout of around 38%.

The walkout lasted 118 days and brought Hollywood to a standstill, halting productions on film and television shows.

FILE PHOTO: SAG-AFTRA actors and Writers Guild of America (WGA) writers walk the picket line during their ongoing strike outside Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, U.S., August 22, 2023. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo
SAG-AFTRA members on strike in August – the walkout lasted 118 days

The strike ended on 9 November when a tentative agreement was reached between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers (AMPTP). It began on 14 July, with pay disputes and the threat of artificial intelligence being the main issues.

SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said: “Today we close out one of the most important chapters in recent entertainment industry history.

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July: ‘We will not allow you to take away our dignity’

“This contract is an enormous victory for working performers, and it marks the dawning of a new era for the industry. Getting to this point was truly a collective effort.

“With the ratification of this agreement, SAG-AFTRA members will receive unprecedented wage escalation, significantly improved streaming compensation, and the first-ever crucial protections around the use of artificial intelligence technology.”

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The deal now specifies compensation has to equate to the amount of work that would have been done by the actor, while companies have to get the consent of performers to use their facial features as part of the creation of any synthetic elements.

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The actors’ strike came at the same time as the Writers Guild of America action, which was resolved in September, as the union agreed to a deal with studio bosses after 146 days on the picket line.

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Denny Laine: Paul McCartney pays tribute after Moody Blues singer and Wings guitarist dies aged 79




Denny Laine: Paul McCartney pays tribute after Moody Blues singer and Wings guitarist dies aged 79

Denny Laine, the lead singer of English rock band the Moody Blues and guitarist with Wings, has died aged 79.

The co-founder of both Wings, which also featured Sir Paul McCartney, and The Moody Blues “passed away peacefully” following a battle with lung disease.

In an Instagram statement, Elizabeth Hines wrote that it was an “absolute honour and privilege to not only be his wife, but to care for him during his illness and vulnerability”.

She wrote: “My darling husband passed away peacefully early this morning.

“I was at his bedside, holding his hand as I played his favourite Christmas songs for him. He’s been singing Christmas songs the past few weeks and I continued to play Christmas songs while he’s been in ICU on a ventilator this past week.

“He and I both believed he would overcome his health setbacks and return to the rehabilitation centre and eventually home.

“Unfortunately, his lung disease, Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD), is unpredictable and aggressive; each infection weakened and damaged his lungs. He fought every day. He was so strong and brave, never complained.

“All he wanted was to be home with me and his pet kitty, Charley, playing his gypsy guitar.”

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Sir Paul posted on Instagram to pay tribute to Laine, saying he was “very saddened” by his ex-bandmates passing.

He said: “I have many fond memories of my time with Denny: from the early days when The Beatles toured with the Moody Blues.

“Our two bands had a lot of respect for each other and a lot of fun together. Denny joined Wings at the outset. He was an outstanding vocalist and guitar player.

“His most famous performance is probably ‘Go Now’, an old Bessie Banks song which he would sing brilliantly. He and I wrote some songs together, the most successful being ‘Mull of Kintyre’ which was a big hit in the Seventies.

“We had drifted apart, but in recent years managed to re-establish our friendship and share memories of our times together.

“Denny was a great talent with a fine sense of humour and was always ready to help other people. He will be missed by all his fans and remembered with great fondness by his friends. I send my condolences and best wishes to his wife, Elizabeth and family.

“Peace and love Denny. It was a pleasure to know you. We are all going to miss you.”

Ms Hines also wrote that the support from the public “brought him to tears”, and said her “world will never be the same”.

Denny Laine pictured with his art at the Rock Art Show in Willow Grove Park Mall in Willow Grove, Pa on December 18, 2016. Pic: Star Shooter/MediaPunch /IPX

She added: “Denny was an amazingly wonderful person, so loving and sweet to me.

“He made my days colourful, fun and full of life-just like him. Thank you sweetie for loving me, for all the laughter, friendship, fun and for asking me to be your wife. I will love you forever.

“Please give Denny’s friends and family the time and privacy needed as we grieve our loss.”

Born Brian Hines in Tyseley, Birmingham, in October 1944, Laine had been a member of Birmingham-formed The Moody Blues during the 1960s.

He quit the band shorty after releasing The Magnificent Moodies in 1965 over a conflict with their record label.

He then joined Sir Paul and Linda McCartney in the Wings line-up in 1971 before departing the band in the 1980s.

Laine was also part of the World Classic Rockers, a touring act which had Donovan, Spencer Davis and founding member of The Eagles Randy Meisner play at various times.

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