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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
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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
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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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Rebel Moon: Zack Snyder and Ed Skrein on ‘mad’ reaction and ‘media storms’ following first movie

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Rebel Moon: Zack Snyder and Ed Skrein on 'mad' reaction and 'media storms' following first movie

British actor Ed Skrein says he hasn’t paid attention to any of the reactions Rebel Moon has received online.

The Deadpool star told Sky News: “The weather system of media storms does not affect me, I don’t live in the media.”

Ed Skrein as Atticus Noble in Rebel Moon. Pic: Netflix
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Ed Skrein as Atticus Noble in Rebel Moon. Pic: Netflix

The first instalment of Zack Snyder’s new franchise had a limited theatrical release before being added to Netflix in December last year.

The movie was the recipient of some less-favourable reviews, a 21% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes and it averaged a two out of five-star score from over 100,000 accounts on Letterboxd.

The actor, who plays Admiral Atticus Noble in the franchise, says it’s the art itself that maintains his attention.

“The process of filming is my bit, you know, when we were out there, that’s my part.”

He adds: “I’ll pass the baton on and let people run with it.”

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Skrein returns for Rebel Moon – Part Two: The Scargiver despite his character meeting his fate in the first film.

“My friend is a painter from Andalusia in Spain and said to me the other day, when we make art, it’s like putting a message in a bottle and you throw it out and occasionally after a while you get a message back or you just get your bottle back.”

He continues: “In filmmaking, I thought about it, it’s like you have your initial reaction but then five years later, 10 years later, it’s like, now we can judge it.”

Djimon Hounsou as Titus and Staz Nair as Tarak. Pic: Clay Enos/Netflix
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Djimon Hounsou as Titus and Staz Nair as Tarak. Pic: Clay Enos/Netflix

Rebel Moon – Part Two: The Scargiver continues with the storyline of orphan and ex-soldier Kora, played by Sofia Boutella, who looks to protect a peaceful colony from the ruthless Mother World.

Inspired by a rejection

Aside from Skrein, the cast includes Game Of Thrones Staz Nair, Gladiator actor Djimon Hounsou and The Age of Adeline’s Michiel Huisman.

The Rebel Moon franchise came into being after director Zack Snyder pitched the idea to Disney as a Star Wars film, but was rejected.

Pic: Clay Enos/Netflix
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Rhian Rees as The Queen, Cary Elwes as The King, Sofia Boutella as Kora and Stella Grace Fitzgerald as Princess Issa. Pic: Clay Enos/Netflix

He signed an agreement with Netflix to create an entirely new franchise with the plan to extend into other formats like comic books.

The Army Of The Dead director recently went viral for his comments comparing the success of the first Rebel Moon film to Barbie, suggesting to the Joe Rogan podcast that “more people probably saw Rebel Moon than saw Barbie in the theatre”.

‘Everyone got mad at me’

Speaking to Sky News, he stands by the statement and says he’s “really impressed” by Netflix‘s business model.

Zack Snyder talking at the Rebel Moon Part Two: Songs Of The Rebellion Album release event in New York. Pic: Noam Galai/Netflix
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Zack Snyder talking at the Rebel Moon Part Two: Songs Of The Rebellion Album release event in New York. Pic: Noam Galai/Netflix

He explains: “I think that was what I was getting at with the whole Barbie thing.”

Then adding: “Everyone got mad at me, but I’m just telling you what I heard, like, sorry if Netflix has such a giant audience. The point of what I was getting at was that the pipeline is so robust that it’s unbelievable. What a filmmaker wants is the movies to be seen.”

A third film hasn’t yet been greenlit by Netflix but the storyline and recent interviews with the director suggest there could be more on the horizon for Rebel Moon fans.

Rebel Moon – Part Two: The Scargiver is available to stream now on Netflix.

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Taylor Swift’s The Tortured Poets Department streamed more than 300 million times in one day

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Taylor Swift's The Tortured Poets Department streamed more than 300 million times in one day

Taylor Swift’s The Tortured Poets Department has become the first album in Spotify history to reach more than 300 million streams in a single day.

The 34-year-old singer also became the most-streamed artist in a single day on the platform when her record was released on 19 April, according to the streaming service.

Spotify wrote on X: “History made! On April 19, 2024, Taylor Swift’s The Tortured Poets Department was the first album in Spotify history to have over 300M streams in a single day.”

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Swift’s 11th studio album includes collaborations with Florence And The Machine and Post Malone.

Fortnight, featuring Post Malone, is Swift’s first single from the album and also became Spotify’s most streamed song in a single day.

On social media Post Malone, whose real name is Austin Richard Post, said: “It’s once in a lifetime that someone like @taylorswift13 comes into this world.

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“I am floored by your heart and your mind, and I am beyond honoured to have been asked to help you with your journey I love you so much. Thank you Tay.”

On 18 April, Swift announced that Fortnight was the first single on her record and said a music video would drop after the album.

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She also said she had been “a huge fan of Post because of the writer he is, his musical experimentation and those melodies he creates that just stick in your head forever”.

She added: “I got to witness that magic come to life firsthand when we worked together on Fortnight.”

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Fans react to new Taylor Swift album

The music video for the track includes an appearance from Dead Poets Society stars Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles.

Hours after dropping the 16-song edition of her album the US pop superstar announced an expanded version with an extra 15 songs, titled The Anthology.

Swift, who has 11 chart-topping UK albums, had announced the arrival of her latest record live on stage at the Grammy Awards in February.

The performer will bring her Eras Tour to the UK from 7 June, when she kicks off with three shows in Edinburgh with the run of London shows beginning on 21 June.

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The female gamers competing for thousands of pounds at first event of its kind in UK

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The female gamers competing for thousands of pounds at first event of its kind in UK

The UK’s first professional women’s gaming tournament of its kind starts on Saturday.

Four teams of professional gamers will play the first-person shooter game Valorant, which is the most-watched esports game in women’s leagues.

It is the first time Europe’s best teams have battled it out in the UK, and organisers hope it will bring more women into gaming.

Meg ‘Megsoundslikeegg’ Gardner is one of the hosts of the Red Bull Instalock tournament
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Meg ‘Megsoundslikeegg’ Gardner is one of the hosts of the Red Bull Instalock tournament

“The more people see you can enjoy gaming as somebody who’s not native to it, the more confident they’ll get and the more they’ll enjoy it,” said host and streamer Meg ‘Megsoundslikeegg’ Gardner.

The players are competing over two days at London‘s Red Bull Gaming Sphere for a prize pool of £15,000.

Michaela ‘mimi’ Lintrup, who is the one of world’s best Valorant players and has been professionally gaming since she was 18, said: “Back then it was not a big thing like it is today.”

The 26-year-old Dane added: “We fought for a case of Red Bull or something, it was not a prize pool with money. I just played because I had passion for it and I loved it.”

But that’s all changed.

Last year, fans watched more than 28 million hours of professional women’s esports, according to industry tracker Esports Charts. The competitions are usually streamed on places like Twitch, TikTok and YouTube.

Those figures don’t even include people watching in China, where esports are so big that more people watched them than traditional sports at the 2023 Asian Games.

In esports, where people play competitively in a variety of video games, there are leagues, prizes and hordes of fans just like in other sports.

Professional gamer Mathilde ‘Nelo’ Beltoise plays Valorant Karmine Corp
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Professional gamer Mathilde ‘Nelo’ Beltoise plays for French team Karmine Corp

French player Mathilde ‘Nelo’ Beltoise, who is in a team called Karmine Corp, said the level of fandom in France is off the scale.

“Karmine Corp is so huge that everywhere you go, someone will recognise you. Every time I go into the street, I see someone with the jersey. It’s really huge,” she said.

The popularity of her team in France helped Beltoise’s parents, who are teachers, warm to the idea of her playing video games for a living.

“Sometimes one of their students has a Karmine Corp jersey on and they’re like, ‘Is that you?’ Now they just love it,” she explained.

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Being a professional gamer means glamorous-sounding international travel and online streaming, but it is also a regular nine to five job.

“We practice from Monday to Friday but when we get close to tournament time, we will add Sundays,” said Lintrup.

“We have four games a day which usually last for 50 minutes. Then we can talk a little bit about the mistakes we made [for 10 minutes before the next one]. Then we have about one and a half hours of theory time.”

Michaela ‘Mimi’ Lindtrup is one of the world's best Valorant players
Image:
Michaela ‘mimi’ Lindtrup is one of the world’s best Valorant players

Lintrup is the in-game leader of G2 Gozen and her role is fairly similar to that of a football captain.

She said: “After practice, I will usually stream or review which means I will go back and watch our games and point out the mistakes. I have to put in a bit of extra work. I love it like that.”

British competitor Sarah ‘sarah’ Ahmed is 18 years old and from Derby. She has been playing professionally for six months and became interested in gaming because of her brother.

She said: “He had a laptop and I didn’t so when I was 16, I got my first PC, and that’s when I started playing games, just like my brother.”

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Now, she is travelling the world, having recently competed in Turkey in the first-ever mixed-gender tournament. She described the moment she discovered the women’s gaming scene on Valorant.

“When I was younger, none of my friends played video games so whenever I played, it was just by myself, it was hard making girl friends.

“So when I saw there was a big community with a lot of girls just playing, I wanted to be a part of it.”

Sarah 'sarah' Ahmed from Derby has been playing Valorant professionally for six months
Image:
Sarah ‘sarah’ Ahmed from Derby has been playing professionally for six months

Valorant was released during one of the COVID lockdowns, when there was a surge in the number of people playing video games. Host Meg Gardner thinks it is more popular with women because of its storytelling.

She said: “Valorant is very good at being inclusive so you’ll see a lot of female characters that aren’t just in a supportive role, but like people that are very strong in the game. People want to pick them to play with.”

The Red Bull Instalock tournament is being streamed live on Twitch from 12pm UK time on Saturday and Sunday.

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