A PROPOSED rapid coronavirus test that could be the key to unlocking live performances has been welcomed by a Romsey theatre - but only if audience numbers can return to normal.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the use of lateral flow tests could be the "route forward" to reopening theatres and nightclubs, admitting these businesses have been "the toughest nuts to crack" in a Downing Street news conference last week.

The devices can give results in 30 minutes and are being offered to people who don't have symptoms in care homes, universities, schools and workplaces.

The Plaza Theatre, Winchester Road, has not been staging performances since the first national lockdown in March 2020.

Estates manager, Barry Young, told the Advertiser if rapid tests allow larger audiences to return it would be worth rolling them out.

He said: "We have been closed as a theatre for almost a year now and it is really quite frightening what is happening [with coronavirus].

"Our audience capacity is 230 and when we have been allowed to show films the maximum number of people we could seat was 80 if we were lucky.

"If the rapid tests mean all we can seat is 80 people still then it is not really worth it, because we were already doing that in November. The jury is still out on this."

Romsey Advertiser:

Barry, who lives in Romsey, stressed there are still questions about how the testing will work before performances, adding audience and staff safety is the Plaza's top priority.

He explained: "I would like to know how rapid testing might work; would people have to have a test before coming to the Plaza or would we do it at the theatre?

"We have to be so careful, because if someone comes back with a positive result they have to be escorted out pretty quickly and I don't know if our front-of-house staff would want to be involved.

"More importantly, I wonder if our audience members are keen to come back just yet, because we want them to feel comfortable and confident when they do.

"We also don't want to put our staff at risk, so this testing needs to be done safely."

However, Barry added the Romsey Amateur Operatic And Dramatic Society (RAODS) is itching to return to the stage after the theatre was unable to stage their annual pantomime.

Volunteers at the Plaza should have performed their January 2021 pantomime - 'Jack and the Beanstalk' - but their hopes were dashed when the UK was plunged into a third national lockdown.

Last year, the Plaza raked in £15,133, plus £3,230.50 in Gift Aid, as part of a fundraiser to protect its reserves for the Plaza Theatre’s Future Project.

This will see the roof extended to create a higher building as part of their £550,000 plans.

The money raised through the fundraising efforts will be used to cover the building's running costs.