The point of no return: 'The Phantom of the Opera' closes in London's West End after 34 years

The news underscores the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the UK's theatre industry

'The Phantom of the Opera' premiered in London's West End in 1986. Courtesy Broadway Entertainment Group
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The curtain is set to close on one of the world's most enduring stage shows.

The Phantom of the Opera, which has been running in London's West End since 1986, will no longer return to Her Majesty's Theatre after initially postponing all performances from March due to Covid-19.

Producer Cameron Mackintosh blamed the decision to end the popular musical on financial losses caused by the pandemic.

Touring versions of the production, however, which included a month-long run in Dubai Opera last year, will continue. The production is presently being performed in South Korea.

Created by musical theatre legend Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Phantom of the Opera is a story of love and obsession set in a 20th-century French theatre company.

Since its premiere, the production has been performed virtually every night and became a staple of both the West End and New York’s Broadway theatre districts.

The shock news of its closure comes after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently announced all British theatres can reopen from Saturday, August 1, with stringent health measures in place.

Mackintosh cited some of those guidelines as a key reason for calling time on The Phantom of the Opera.

In an opinion piece published in London newspaper The Evening Standard on Wednesday, July 28, he stated it was financially unviable to run an expensive production such with social distancing measures in place.

“Even without [social distancing], we will need at least four months to remount our productions, rebuild our advance bookings and public confidence and bring our artists back to performance pitch,” he said.

“I’m still hopeful that by Easter next year most of my productions and some of our theatres can reopen, so I can start re-employing most of the staff I’ve had to let go.”

The show goes on

Last week, the West End held its first performance in four months with a sold-out concert by British singer Beverley Knight at the Palladium. The event served as a preview of the new UK theatre experience ahead of the resumption of shows next month.

In addition to arriving at the venue at assigned times, audience members were spread across the Palladium with some rows left empty.

Underscoring the importance of the event was the attendance of Lloyd Webber himself, who in a rare public appearance introduced the matinee concert.

While expressing delight to see audiences back in the theatre, Webber said he was not convinced that theatres could survive at limited capacity.

"I have to say this is a rather sad sight. I’m so grateful to you all for coming and being a sort of guinea pig like this," he said.

“I think this will amply prove why social distancing in theatre doesn’t work. It’s a misery for the performers I know and thank you Beverley for being so brave as to do this.”