Andrew Lloyd Webber has declared he will go ahead with plans to reopen theatres in England on 21 June – even if it means being arrested.
The 73-year-old musical composer and producer said he has mortgaged his home and may have to sell his six West End theatres if the government does not lift lockdown restrictions forcing venues to run at reduced capacity to allow for social distancing.
Baron Lloyd-Webber told The Daily Telegraph: “We are going to open, come hell or high water.”
Asked what he will do if the government extends the restrictions beyond 21 June, the theatrical impresario said: “We will say, ‘Come to the theatre and arrest us.’"
Lloyd Webber – who volunteered to be part of an early trial of the AstraZeneca vaccine last August in a bid to help combat the coronavirus pandemic – is due to begin previews of a new musical production of Cinderella at the Gillian Lynne Theatre in London's Covent Garden on 25 June.
The Evita composer claimed scientific evidence indicated theatres are “completely safe” and do not cause outbreaks and that he is prepared to sue the government if it does not go ahead with plans to allow them to open.
He said: “If the government ignore their own science, we have the mother of all legal cases against them. If Cinderella couldn’t open, we’d go, ‘Look, either we go to law about it or you’ll have to compensate us.’"
In response, communities secretary Robert Jenrick said he “completely sympathised” with Lloyd Webber and those in the theatre sector.
“We want to get them open, we are doing pilots, we want to get those theatres open so great new productions like Cinderella can open,” Jenrick told Sky News.
“I know that people are desperate to go to them, tickets are selling fast for all those productions because people have been away too long.
“But you have just got a few more days to wait until the judgment that the prime minister is going to make on the basis of the data.”
When asked if Baron Lloyd-Webber should be arrested if he does open theatres without restrictions relaxing, Jenrick said: “We all have to abide by the rules.
“I’m not going to get into speculation about that but we want to get those theatres back open, obviously as quickly as we can, and to support people like Andrew Lloyd Webber so that we can all enjoy brilliant productions in the West End once again.”
Lloyd Webber has been vocal throughout the pandemic about its effect on the theatre and entertainment industry.
His Really Useful Group has said it is losing up to £6m a week in box office sales, while Shakespeare's Globe and the Old Vic warned their financial losses could mean they would be forced to close down permanently.
Lloyd Webber has even offered his theatres for trial of a chemical spray called triethylene glycol (TEG) that could be pumped into indoor venues to help sanitise them.
The government has previously named 21 June as the date for England to lift all remaining restrictions put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.
But with a large rise in numbers testing positive for the Delta variant of the virus in the past week, there is increasing speculation the lifting will be delayed.
Watch: Andrew Lloyd Webber warns theatres may have to close permanently