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Hunstanton's Princess Theatre all set to welcome 50 visitors for cinema showings




There will be 50 people visiting a coastal town's theatre this evening for the first screening since coronavirus safety measures were introduced at the venue.

Hunstanton's Princess Theatre will be showing the Military Wives film with a one-way system in place in which customers enter through the main double doors before leaving via separate doors by the front of the stage.

The theatre's box office is currently closed so only online bookings are being accepted. There is also a track and trace system, floor markings and strips of white tape on the seats to ensure people are socially distanced.

Hunstanton Princess Theatre proprietor Brian Hallard ahead of welcoming visitors to the venue this evening for a screening of the Military Wives film. White tape can be seen on the seats to keep people socially distanced
Hunstanton Princess Theatre proprietor Brian Hallard ahead of welcoming visitors to the venue this evening for a screening of the Military Wives film. White tape can be seen on the seats to keep people socially distanced

Hand sanitiser stations are in place at the toilets and for when people enter the auditorium.

Proprietor Brian Hallard said those who have booked so far are mostly couples and a few singles.

Mr Hallard added: "We have worked out we can safely seat 80 here but I would rather stick to 50 people at the beginning to see which way it will go.

Social distancing floor markings for those visiting the Princess Theatre
Social distancing floor markings for those visiting the Princess Theatre

"If a film is popular, it's getting people coming back in and to have the confidence to come and visit.

"If people come out with a mask tonight we will respect it. There are so many grey area as you will have to wear a mask when shopping but not at the pub."

The theatre has a capacity of 464 seats, but officials will be trialling a maximum of 50 seats being filled at the moment due to coronavirus safety precautions.

Hand sanitiser and track and trace forms at the entrance for the Princess Theatre
Hand sanitiser and track and trace forms at the entrance for the Princess Theatre

There will be four volunteers at the venue this evening guiding visitors and ensuring they are safe.

Despite the film screenings starting after lockdown-with another scheduled for Saturday-there will be no theatre performances for the forseeable future.

No decision has been taken on this year's pantomime yet, and Mr Hallard said he will "hold it in place" for now, despite Norwich Theatre Royal already cancelling its show.

Hand sanitiser stations have been set up in the Princess Theatre, Hunstanton
Hand sanitiser stations have been set up in the Princess Theatre, Hunstanton

Mr Hallard fears for pantomime companies who have to maintain costumes, and believes the current lack of income could result in some companies disappearing altogether, thereby leaving some theatres without their traditional show.

The proprietor also said there are "grey areas" regarding the government's support for the arts and culture sector in the UK.

His comments come as the government announced earlier this month that the arts, culture and heritage industries will receive a £1.57 billion rescue package to help weather the impact of coronavirus as part of three-step plan for recovery.

West Norfolk councillor Paul Beal, left, and the proprietor of the Princess Theatre Brian Hallard
West Norfolk councillor Paul Beal, left, and the proprietor of the Princess Theatre Brian Hallard

However, Mr Hallard said he is unsure what the criteria is to apply for a portion of this funding support, but he will be "keeping an eye on it".

Regarding the restrictions on theatres, he added: "You are not allowed to sing or play music on stage because you would be blowing into an instrument, for example.

"There is a lack of information and not many of us know where it's going. Most theatres are on the furlough scheme but where will it leave them when that is stopped? I think 80 to 90 theatres will close across the UK.

"It is walking into the unknown but I think the government has done well overall, especially with the furlough scheme."

The theatre's sunset wine bar and terrace can accommodate 60 people at weekends, but Mr Hallard said they will not be playing music as per usual due to the risk of people gathering on the green to listen.

West Norfolk councillor Paul Beal, who represents Hunstanton, said: "I think the theatre is people's well-being. It's getting back to normality and the measures in place here are superb and they have gone above and beyond.

"They have taken their own decisions to prove it's working first. It will not be full to capacity but I hope it works. People want to get back to normal even if it's going for a coffee in the bar; it's getting the routine back into their lives."

An online survey set up by the venue showed 64 per cent of respondents expressed a desire to visit for cinema screenings.

In normal circumstances, the theatre would see visitors travelling from as far as the Midlands with three to four shows taking place every week, sometimes twice a day.

But for now, the venue will be showing films every Saturday and Tuesday as a means of bringing people back into the building.

A theatre donations page is also in the process of being set up.



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