What’s it like going back to the theatre after lockdown? Musical Movies at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

[Press theatre tickets provided by Mayflower Theatre in exchange for an honest review]

It’s been over 180 days since I last stepped foot in a theatre, and I know I’m not alone when I say I’ve missed it terribly. The plight of the arts industry during lockdown, and beyond, has been heartbreaking and has hit very close to home.

While many venues remain shut for the time being, Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre has reopened its doors and is dipping its toes tentatively into the world of post-lockdown events.

Live theatre is sadly not on the cards just yet – but the Mayflower are easing us back into things with a season of musicals and shows on screen – a series of events they’re calling ‘Mayflower’s Musical Movies’!

Audience members can enjoy the experience of being at the Mayflower while watching some much-loved shows; on-stage stories that were made to be shown on a big screen, surrounded by opera boxes and a gorgeous interior.

I was delighted to be invited along on the theatre’s opening night to see 42nd Street – an all singing, all dancing spectacular that harks back to the classics of stage and screen and Hollywood’s Golden Age. The prospect of seeing a new show, and going back to a place I missed so much, was thrilling.

However, when the day came, I was incredibly nervous about my visit. The night before, the government had announced tighter restrictions from the following week after a spike in cases. It was worrying news, and having been (perhaps overly) cautious about re-entering the world post-lockdown in the first place, I was concerned.

Much like going back into shops and restaurants for the first time, I needed to just do it to prove to myself that it was safe and enjoyable.

While it was only natural to be a little anxious and wary, the Mayflower provided an experience that was positive, relaxing and secure while maintaining that sense of pre-show excitement. Measures had been carefully put in place to ensure the venue was COVID-secure, and staff were on-hand to make sure we were following guidelines – while being their usual friendly selves!

After a little queueing to get inside (something we’re all experts in by now!) we sanitised our hands and had our temperatures checked by a member of the team. We purchased our refreshments, and followed the one-way system which led us down to our seats, which were all well distanced. Movement inside the auditorium was encouraged to be kept to a minimum, and once the show had ended we followed the one-way system once more to exit the building safely.

It was great to see how much work had been put in to help us feel safe on our return.

There were a couple of teething problems – for example, the one-way system from the loos back to the seats wasn’t overly clearly signposted, which confused a few people (ourselves included!) but we found our way back into the auditorium with some help from the ushers.

However, I think it’s important to remember that, with situations like these, the organisation is learning at the same time as us, and on a first night, things are bound to need ironing out!

Something else I noticed about the experience was how it’s also up to your fellow theatre-goers to make the night a safe and enjoyable event. The theatre itself can only do so much. So, if you are planning to visit soon, remember to follow the guidelines that have been laid out, give people space, wear masks whenever possible, and don’t all rush for the exit at the end of the show! We all have to work together if we want to support the arts and ensure these events are here to stay.

So, what about the show itself?

Well, 42nd Street was an absolute joy. I found myself grinning underneath my ask for almost the entire performance. The old-school nature of the production – with tap dancers, 1930s set and costume, and classic glamour – fitted in perfectly with the Mayflower Theatre’s interior and atmosphere.

Screenings of filmed shows in cinemas are pretty commonplace now, but 42nd Street might seem out of place at the local Showcase of Cineworld. This showing had a huge impact in a real, opulent theatre, and the filming style and quality genuinely made me feel, at times, like I was actually there with a cast before me. It was certainly the next best thing to seeing it live.

42nd Street is a razzling, dazzling, rip-roaring show, with a bit of wit and gallons of glamour to boot. I would highly recommend adding it to any post-lockdown theatre wish lists you have.

The whole experience – a high-quality, spectacular show about the joy of performance, the elation of being back in a theatre I love, and the security of knowing necessary safety measures were in place – was really positive, and much more relaxing than I expected. In fact, it was almost like old times. Almost.

It’s obviously not going to be the same Mayflower experience that we might be used to, but this is a new experience for a new normal, and the team at the Mayflower has certainly done all they can to help us feel comfortable.

Though we’ll have a long wait to see the seats and stages filled again to pre-COVID standards, this is certainly a positive, important, and exciting step for our regional theatre.

I took a moment before I left to look around at the high ceilings and empty seats around me, and felt a pang of sadness, combined with hope. So much has changed, and there is so much uncertainty, but the novelty of being back in the stalls, watching a show (recorded, or live!), is something I won’t take for granted again.

Mayflower’s Musical Movies are taking place throughout September. Find out more and book your tickets on the Mayflower Theatre website.

Two people taking a selfie with black face masks on, in a mostly empty theatre auditorium.

42nd Street images courtesy of Mayflower Theatre

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