Scotland’s Covid measures appear to be helping events sector recover and build confidence – Brian Ferguson

It is Saturday night at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh on the opening weekend of a brand new show.
Bemz and AiiTee were among the performers at the recent Scottish Album of the Year Awards. (Picture: Euan Robertson)Bemz and AiiTee were among the performers at the recent Scottish Album of the Year Awards. (Picture: Euan Robertson)
Bemz and AiiTee were among the performers at the recent Scottish Album of the Year Awards. (Picture: Euan Robertson)

For the second week in a row, I’m inside one of Edinburgh' s most treasured cultural buildings – for an experience that was reassuring and comforting, but a reminder of how much as changed for the arts world and how it is still very much living with Covid.

The previous Saturday I was at the Scottish Album of the Year Awards to see how a cornerstone of the Scottish cultural calendar was staged in its biggest venue to date.

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This year’s awards provided the industry with a much-needed moment of genuine celebration after its extended shutdown. With a specially created house band collaborating with many of the country's hottest new talents, it also offered a thrilling glimpse of the future.

Last Saturday, the Lyceum's first in-house, post-Covid production was also a chance to cast an eye on rising stars including Lorn Macdonald and Anna Russell-Martin.

But equally intriguing was the fact that the cast performed Jo Clifford's play "in the round" on a temporary stage erected over the theatre's stalls to an audience much reduced in size from normal. Bars were only open to pick up pre-ordered drinks, 95 per cent of the audience were wearing face coverings and a one-way system ensured there was little contact with any other theatre-goers. It felt as safe an environment as possible.

It was a similar story at the Usher Hall, where there was the added layer of reassurance offered by the need to provide proof of a double vaccination, demanded under the current Covid rules for certain events.

There was plenty room to wander around the standing arena and a pre-show plea for the audience to wear their face coverings on the move seemed to be heeded by most attendees.

Neither event felt anything like normal, but they were genuinely hassle-free and a vast improvement from the kind of digital versions that many performers, venues, events and audiences grew to rely on during the lengthy Covid shutdown.

With many venues only just beginning to get going again, more than six months after the lifting of lockdown restrictions, and vaccine passports likely to stay in place in Scotland for months to come, it will clearly be some time before anything approaching normality returns.

Yet the current measures do appear to be working and gradually building confidence among public health experts, the events industry and with the general public.

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The last week alone has seen an announcement by DF Concerts of a brand new summer festival, Colourboxx, in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park, confirmation of the return of Edinburgh’s Burns & Beyond Festival, next year’s Skye Live Festival declared a sell-out, and Celtic Connections adding 30 new events to its line-up.

The countdown has begun to the rebooting of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations, whose organisers have had the unenviable task of making them as Covid-safe as possible, grappling with expected lower demand from international visitors, and addressing concerns that the most recent incarnations of the event were causing too much disruption in the city centre.

Yet if Edinburgh does pull off a memorable few days of celebrations in just under two months, those midnight fireworks might just be more symbolic than ever before.

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