BOSSES of a theatre that has attracted audiences for more than a century have outlined measures they have taken to make it a “fantastically safe environment” ahead of it reopening next month.

Darlington Hippodrome’s programming and development director Heather Tarran-Jones said despite launching a plethora of safeguards to protect staff and visitors from Covid-19, the theatre’s management had forecast ticket sales would be 75 per cent of normal by next March.

She said it was expected tickets sales would be slow to pick up, with just 40 per cent of normal ticket sales by October, so a concerted marketing campaign was due to be launched for its biggest selling event of year, the Christmas season pantomime.

It has been forecast it will not be until next April at least that the theatre starts matching its figures from 2019-20 when 131,000 people attended performances at the theatre, the show programme generated £2.9m and food and drink £517,000.

The theatre is heavily reliant on the touring industry, but as many producers are unable to afford to run shows, due to issues such as social distancing, during the summer, alongside live theatre the Hippodrome will run streamed events and cinema.

Ms Tarran-Jones said: “We are really keen to bring back audiences, but it must be done safely and it has to be at the right pace for our audiences as well, which is why the programme is so varied and eclectic over the summer and early autumn period, to cater for everybody’s situations and feelings around the pandemic.

“We need audiences to come back to the Hippodrome. Engagement with our other activities, classes and education offer is fantastic, but when it comes to ticket sales, that’s our real focus over the next six months.”

She said while the summer programme’s highlights included a show by Sir Michael Parkinson, to encourage audiences to safely return the Hippodrome, it was reviewing the possibility of lateral flow testing and vaccine passports.

In addition, the theatre has launched an app so people can order food and drinks in their seats, ticket scanners so people can maintain social distancing while entering the theatre.

And the theatre was also working with a firm to offer ticket protection, to save the Hippodrome from losses if people have to self-isolate or due to illnesses and theatre-goers from losing money.