LONDON — For five years, the most famous clock tower in Britain was hidden behind an ugly fortress of scaffolding, and its hourly bong was rendered mute.
But the restoration work is done, and this summer, a sound familiar to Londoners for more than a century and a half will again ring out across the British capital — Big Ben is back.
The clock tower — officially known as the Elizabeth Tower since 2012 when it was renamed in honor of the queen’s diamond jubilee — stands tall over the Palace of Westminster, which houses the British Parliament and is one of the world’s most instantly recognized constructions. But it is the nickname of the biggest bell in the belfry that draws the most name recognition: Big Ben.
started ticking in 1859. More than 3,500 parts were removed from the 316-foot tower, including much of its iron roof.
Brexit supporters fought in vain to return it to service to mark the country’s exit from the European Union.
The challenges of making that happen, though, become clear when climbing the confined, 334-step stairwell that winds up to the belfry. Also evident: the quality of the renovation.
Bright morning light shone in through the four restored clock faces — perched high above the Houses of Parliament — each with 324 pieces of pot opal glass produced in Germany. Newly refurbished golden orbs that decorate the tower’s stonework glinted in the sun.
The sheer size of Big Ben, weighing a little over 15 tons, is impressive, as is the intricacy of a clock mechanism based on the most advanced technology available to its 19th-century creators. It still loses no more than a second in accuracy a week.
The Elizabeth Tower is not the first clock tower to watch over Parliament — that one is thought to date from around 1290. In 1834, a fire destroyed the Palace of Westminster, leading to the construction of the modern-day building that is one of the most famous examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the world.
And when the original clock tower was built, it was constructed with a rising scaffold, “so it rose as if by magic, it was noted at the time,” Mr. Watrobski said.
In May 1859, crowds lined the streets to greet Big Ben’s arrival. The enormous bell was pulled by 16 horses to Westminster, where it took 18 hours to haul it nearly 200 feet to the belfry before it could first ring out.
Back then, the clock tower was the most advanced and ambitious public building of its age, but by 2017, stonework was deteriorating, water was leaking into the belfry, and the steps, ironwork and guttering were all in need of repair. There was even still damage dating from 1941, when Parliament was bombed during World War II.
“Like all historic buildings, you don’t really know until you peel off the skin what you are going to find underneath,” Mr. Watrobski said. “There was a considerable amount of damage to cast iron and to stonework.”
The restoration work has gone a long way to modernizing the Elizabeth Tower, which will reopen this year to tourists. But the improvements will benefit visitors and maintenance staff alike.
An elevator has been installed, as has a restroom at the top — the lack of which previously meant Big Ben’s maintenance workers had to trek down the 334 steps whenever they were in need of one. There is even now a spot for the staff to make tea.
While Big Ben needs constant maintenance, the clock had never been fully serviced until this restoration. After it was dismantled, it was secreted away from London, more than 280 miles, to the workshop of the Cumbria Clock Company in northwestern England.
Given its symbolic importance, its whereabouts while being serviced was never disclosed.
To help keep the work under wraps, the Cumbria Clock Company removed signs from its building to make it harder for uninvited visitors to find. When a group of walkers once peered through a window and asked if they were looking at the famous clock, they were told that they were instead viewing one from Manchester Town Hall.
“It was very important that what we were doing was kept secret,” said the company’s director, Keith Scobie-Youngs, who was worried that it might attract thieves or vandals as well as curious tourists.
Mr. Scobie-Youngs said that the clock had been in remarkably good condition and that he had been awed by the skill of the 19th-century clockmakers.
“Nobody had ever attempted to build a clock that size to the accuracy demanded,” he said, adding, “I refer to it as being the smartphone of the 1850s.”
Mr. Scobie-Youngs also lauded Big Ben: “There is a unique sound to it,” he said. “It is that unique heartbeat.”
The bell’s bong, he said, was instantly recognizable to Britons. “When people were a long way from home, and it was on the radio, that unique sound brought people home again,” Mr. Scobie-Youngs said.
Freshly painted, finished with enough gold to cover four tennis courts, and complete with more than 7,000 replacement stones and carvings, the exterior of the Elizabeth Tower stands as a monument to what can be achieved by modern restoration, protecting it, hopefully, for the next 75 years.
Even for those who spent years on the project, the result was a pleasant surprise, said Charlotte Claughton, a senior project leader. She said that she was taken aback when the scaffolding came down and she saw the building shining, “as if it was new,” in the sunlight.
“It was hugely exciting to see it. There are a few moments that catch you off guard, and that was one of them,” Ms. Claughton said. “It was heartwarming.”
LONDON — When Andy Byford ran New York City’s dilapidated subway system, fed-up New Yorkers hailed his crusade to make the trains run with fewer delays and lamented his premature exit after clashes with the governor at the time, Andrew M. Cuomo. He was a familiar, unfailingly cheerful presence on its often-restive platforms. Straphangers even took to calling him “Train Daddy.”
Nobody calls Mr. Byford Train Daddy in London, where he resurfaced in May 2020 as the commissioner of the city’s transit authority, Transport for London. But on May 24, when he opens the Elizabeth line — the long-delayed, $22 billion-plus high-speed railway that uncoils from west and east underneath central London — he might find himself again worthy of a cheeky nickname.
“That was fun in New York,” said Mr. Byford, 56, a gregarious public transport evangelist who grew up in Plymouth, England, began his career as a tube-station manager in London, and has also run transit systems in Toronto and Sydney, Australia. “But I’m really enjoying almost complete anonymity in London.”
Second Avenue subway or the extension of the No. 7 line, which are tiny projects by comparison.”
Mr. Cuomo resigned last year, his successor, Gov. Kathy Hochul, put a proposed $2.1 billion AirTrain project to LaGuardia airport on ice. That leaves the newly renovated airport without a rail link to Manhattan, to the enduring frustration of many New Yorkers.
Heathrow Airport has had a subway link for decades. When the Elizabeth line’s next phase is opened in the fall, passengers will be able to travel from Heathrow to the banks at Canary Wharf in East London in 40 minutes; that is a prime selling point for a city desperate to hold on to its status as financial mecca after Brexit. All told, the line has 10 entirely new stations, 42 miles of tunnels and crosses under the Thames three times.
“We’re jealous, it’s fair to say,” said Danny Pearlstein, the policy director for Riders Alliance, a transportation advocacy group in New York. “Imagining a new, full-length underground line here is not something anyone is doing. The Second Avenue subway, which people have been talking about for 100 years, has three stations.”
To be fair, Transport for London is not without its problems. It has shelved plans to build a north-south counterpart to the Elizabeth line, not to mention an extension to the Bakerloo tube line, because of a lack of funding. Still reeling from a near-total loss of riders during pandemic lockdowns, the system faces many of the same financial woes as New York’s subway.
Though ridership has recovered from a nadir of 5 percent, it is still at only 70 percent of prepandemic levels. Transport for London is also heavily dependent on ticket fares to cover its costs, more so than the New York subway, which gets state subsidies, as well as funds from bridge and tunnel tolls.
“My other obsession is sorting out the finances,” Mr. Byford said. “One way is to wean us away from dependence on fares.”
He is somewhat vague about how to do that, and it is clear that Transport for London will depend on additional government handouts to get back on sound financial footing. That is why the opening of the Elizabeth line is so important to London: It makes a powerful case for public transportation at a time when people are questioning how many workers will ever return to their offices.
Mr. Byford lays out the case with the practiced cadence of a stump speech. The new line will increase the capacity of the system by 10 percent. Its spacious coaches are well suited to a world in which people are used to social distancing. It will revitalize economically blighted towns east of the city, while making central London accessible to people who live in far-flung towns to the east and west.
While Mr. Byford does not expect ridership ever to return completely, he thinks 90 percent is attainable. If office buildings remain underpopulated, London could develop like Paris, with more residential neighborhoods downtown. (The Elizabeth line bears a distinct resemblance to the high-speed RER system in Paris.) The line, he says, is an insurance policy against the “siren voices of doom” about Brexit.
At times, Mr. Byford slips perilously close to a real estate agent’s patter. “These super-high-tech stations simply ooze quality,” he said. But emerging from Liverpool Street, with its spectacular, rippling, pinstriped ceiling, it is hard to argue with his basic assertion: “This is a game changer.”
When the building was threatened with destruction, in 2007, Professor Black and a charity devoted to Georgian-era architecture tried to get it preserved. They initially failed, but the wrecking ball didn’t swing immediately, in part because the 2007-8 financial crisis left many developers in no mood to spend. It didn’t help that the land behind the Annexe was known to be filled with bodies, although how many was not yet clear.
By then, the Annexe had closed, and the University College London Hospitals National Health Service Foundation Trust — the official name of the organization that owned the building — started renting a hodgepodge of rooms in it to about 40 Londoners looking for cheap, communal living. This is a common strategy among British landlords — populate vacant buildings to prevent them from being vandalized or turned into a squatters’ paradise. Renters in such buildings are known as “guardians,” a slightly misleading term.
“Nobody was walking around with a rifle,” said Dominic Connelly, who lived in the Annexe until 2017, when everyone was finally asked to leave. He paid about $600 a month for a large former patient’s room that included a working X-ray light box.
Tenants were a mix of young people — yoga instructors, actors, a club bouncer — dwelling amid an assortment of medical equipment, security systems, a reception desk and hospital signs, including one for the child psychiatry department. The setting also seems to have inspired “Crashing,” a 2016 television mini-series about young people who flirt and couple in a disused hospital, written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the auteur of “Fleabag.”
Except that at the Annexe, people occasionally showed up to dig exploratory trenches.
“You’d see them from the windows, or you’d hear them digging,” Mr. Connelly said. “It was clear they were looking for bodies. Pretty grim stuff when you think about it, so I tried not to think about it.”
All the guardians in the Annexe knew they could be evicted any day, potentially signaling the workhouse’s imminent demise. The prospect was especially galling to a resident who, for unknown reasons, wanted anonymity and has never been identified. She contacted a scholar who had written an essay for The British Medical Journal about one of the medical heroes of the Victorian age, Joseph Rogers, a physician who served as the chief medical officer at the Strand Union Workhouse and crusaded for better conditions.
The original 2007 video “Charlie Bit My Finger,” a standard-bearer of viral internet fascination, has sold as a nonfungible token for $760,999, and the family who created it will take down the original from YouTube for good.
The original video, which has close to 900 million views, features Charlie Davies-Carr, an infant in England, biting the finger of his big brother, Harry Davies-Carr, and then laughing after Harry yells “OWWWW.”
The owner will also be able to create their own parody of the video featuring Charlie and Harry Davies-Carr.
Many duplicates of the video remain online, including one apparently rebranded by the family itself in anticipation of the auction. But the auction allowed bidders to “own the soon-to-be-deleted YouTube phenomenon” and be the “sole owner of this lovable piece of internet history.”
Disaster Girl,” a meme from a photo of Zoë Roth in 2005 looking at a house on fire in her neighborhood, sold last month in an NFT auction for $500,000. Nyan Cat, an animated flying cat with a Pop-Tart torso that leaves a rainbow trail, sold for roughly $580,000 in February. Jack Dorsey’s first tweet sold as an NFT for more than $2.9 million; a clip of LeBron James blocking a shot in a Lakers basketball game went for $100,000 in January; and an artist sold an NFT of a collage of digital images for $69.3 million, among other headline-grabbing auctions.
During an NFT sale, computers are connected to a cryptocurrency network. They record the transaction on a shared ledger and store it on a blockchain, sealing it as part of a permanent public record and serving as a sort of certification of authenticity that cannot be altered or erased.
There were 11 active bidders in the battle for the NFT that was driven mainly between two bidders named 3fmusic and mememaster. When the bidding ended Sunday, mememaster was outbid by 3fmusic by $45,444. A person with the same name also bought the “Disaster Girl” meme NTF.
years after it was first posted. It was written into a Gerber spot and a “30 Rock” episode and was the subject of countless parody videos. But it’s still well known for setting off a genre of contagiously shareable videos.
Howard Davies-Carr, the father of Charlie and Harry, told The New York Times in 2012 that even though he didn’t think of his sons as celebrities, they had nonetheless become a brand. The family was recognized in random places, like on the subway in London.
In an interview with the brothers in 2017 on The Morning, a British talk show, Howard Davies-Carr said he was filming the brothers growing up “just doing normal things” and that Charlie bit his brother’s finger while watching T.V. after a busy day in the garden.
“The video was funny, so I wanted to share it with the boys’ godfather,” Howard Davies-Carr said, adding that their godfather lived in America and that the video was initially private, but people, including his parents, had asked to see it since it was difficult to share, so he made the video public.
A few months later, when the video had at least 10,000 views, Howard Davies-Carr said he almost deleted it. Profits from the video and other opportunities allowed the family to send Charlie, Harry and their two other brothers to private school, said Shelley Davies-Carr, the boys’ mother.
The video with humble beginnings, which Charlie and Harry decided to sell, helped Shelley Davies-Carr stop working full-time when her fourth child was born.
“I was just watching TV and just decided to bite him,” Charlie Davies-Carr said in the interview. “He put his finger in my mouth, so I just bit.” Harry Davies-Carr couldn’t remember the pain from that bite.
LONDON — Disrupter, fixation, opportunity. The pandemic has been all that and more for jewelry fans and designers alike.
Just ask Sabine Roemer.
The German-born designer has two brands: the high jewelry line that carries her name (one-off pieces priced from 10,000 pounds, or about $14,095) and Atelier Romy, which sells trendy pieces like stackable chain necklaces and ear party studs online for £50 to £500.
And now that England is easing restrictions, she said, both lines are emerging as direct-to-consumer businesses — and are linked more closely to her own identity as a craftswoman.
“Workmanship is absolutely apparent in everything Sabine does,” said Marisa Drew, a senior investment banker in London who has jewelry from both of Ms. Roemer’s brands. “There’s always a personality in her pieces and she really approaches her designs with a story in mind.”
Ms. Drew said she likes Ms. Roemer’s transformable designs and strong attention to detail, features that also resonate with Sarah Giovanna, a managing director at a private equity firm in London.
“She sits down with you and really creates something that fits you. For me, it’s all about flexibility,” said Ms. Giovanna, who also wears both lines. “I work in a high-intensity environment, dealing with big businesses, and I want pieces that I can dress up and down. Both brands deliver that.”
Last year’s lockdown, however, was “a make-and-break moment,” Ms. Roemer said, especially for Atelier Romy, which was only three years old when the pandemic hit.
“I was forced to look at every single aspect of the business, and not just entrust it to others,” the 41-year-old designer said, admitting she had focused on creation and clients. Suddenly she couldn’t just help clients dream up high jewelry pieces like a pair of diamond and pearl earrings topped with 17-carat citrines or work on a philanthropic collaboration like the jeweled rendition of a postage stamp she created for the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust in 2017 to celebrate the queen’s 65 years on the British throne.
In March 2020, Ms. Roemer canceled her shipping agent. She hadn’t been entirely happy with its service and decided fulfillment should be handled in-house. “I packed, I shipped and tied the ribbon around every box,” she said. “I needed to learn everything — my accountant joked that it was like McDonald’s, where you have to start in the kitchen and work your way up.” (A handwritten card now accompanies every order.)
Ms. Roemer and her team also focused on Atelier Romy’s social media presence, creating stronger digital content and visuals that highlighted Ms. Roemer as the maker behind the jewels. She wouldn’t share sales figures, but Ms. Roemer said shoppers must have liked the changes, as sales increased fivefold.
It’s the kind of online marketing that is here to stay, said Juliet Hutton-Squire, head of global strategy at Adorn, a jewelry market intelligence firm.
When consumers couldn’t spend on travel, she said, they began spending more on luxury items and investment pieces. Fashion brands were well positioned to capture those sales, thanks to their early investments in digital, and “brands with an online presence or shoppable content on social media were even further ahead of the curve as mobile phones became the way we shop,” Ms. Hutton-Squire explained. “That is just going to continue. We are not going back from this.”
In many ways, Ms. Roemer’s early career — which began as a 15-year-old goldsmith apprentice in Germany — led to her roles as a businesswoman and jeweler today.
Crafting jewelry, she said, is not all about “tools, craft and creation,” as she had once imagined. “You soon realized you also have to be good at physics and math, chemicals and chemistry. Thankfully, those were my favorite subjects at school.”
Atelier Romy has exercised her mathematical brain even more. “I love data,” she said. “I find it fascinating sitting at home in lockdown and just looking at data and who’s coming into the virtual shop.”
After graduating from Pforzheim Goldsmith and Watchmaking School in Germany, Ms. Roemer joined Stephen Webster, a London designer she said she particularly admired as “a craftsperson and not just a designer.”
More work for other Bond Street houses followed, plus orders from private clients — turning the early 2000s into something of a golden era for Ms. Roemer’s high jewelry career. Her philanthropic work also was recognized, especially several custom pieces she made in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, like a gold, diamond and emerald bangle inscribed with the South African president’s prison number; Morgan Freeman wore the piece to the 2010 Oscars as a best actor nominee for “Invictus.”
Ms. Roemer said the experience showed her how jewelry could be a form of storytelling. “The easy thing to do was put a bling diamond piece that gets attention, but I wanted to put Mandela’s story on the red carpet,” she said. “In the end, jewelry is emotional — you wear it every day on your skin. I don’t wear my grandmother’s handbag every day but I do wear her ring. It’s close to me, and really carries that emotional value.”
That same year, her first high jewelry collection debuted at Harrods.
Atelier Romy — a name inspired by the birth of Ms. Roemer’s first daughter, Romy — was created as an affordable ready-to-wear line to be sold exclusively online. “I wanted to portray something a bit different,” she recalled. “Something with strong bold designs but still modern and zeitlos” — German for ageless — “depending on how you’d layer and make it your own.”
Soul and purpose
Valery Demure, the London-based brand consultant who represents several independent jewelers (but not Ms. Roemer), said: “Sabine interests me because she doesn’t come from a jewelry family. Everything she’s learned has been through hard work by herself, and the fact that she has all these skills. She is a woman with a real soul and purpose.”
That sense is increasingly relevant in a post-pandemic world. Ms. Hutton-Squire said the pandemic’s “enforced pause button” highlighted the importance of sustainability and the environment, spurring jewelers to act online in more authentic ways. Whether that was creating, for example, a playlist for meditation or sharing home recipes, “it wasn’t all about sell, sell, sell,” she said. “That really kind of separated the authentic bands from the less authentic ones.”
That also explains the growing demand for craft — something Ms. Roemer said she had experienced prepandemic with some of her high jewelry line’s female clients. “They have a very different mind-set: asking who made it and what it is. It’s less about the stone, how big it is and the carat size,” Ms. Roemer said. “They just want to express themselves and their personalities through jewelry.”
She has been bringing the sentiment online. Atelier Romy now has weekly drops of “how to style” videos and footage of Ms. Roemer at the workbench, cutting, soldering and shaping metal, always among her most popular posts. “Few people really know how jewelry is still made,” she said. “It was nice to take people into the workshop and show them the process.”
In March, Ms. Roemer introduced Cornerstones, her first high jewelry collection in more than 10 years. The extra time in lockdown has been a creative boon, she said (“I always found the best pieces happen in the workshop when you don’t have a plan”) and the collection of nine pairs of earrings were muses on travel, with multifunctional pieces like sea-inspired blue topaz, aquamarine and diamond transformable earrings that Ms. Drew purchased.
Ms. Roemer said she hopes to resume meeting clients from both brands, which, thanks to the pandemic, feel more complementary than ever. “It’s like having two babies — you can’t pick a favorite one, they’re equally important,” she said. “But also very different.”
LONDON — Before the pandemic hit Britain last year, Michelle Hedley could only go to her local theaters in the north of England if they happened to be doing a captioned performance.
That happened five times a year — at best, said Hedley, who is deaf.
But during the pandemic, suddenly, she could watch musicals all day and night if she wanted, as shuttered theaters worldwide put shows online, often with subtitles. “I started watching anything and everything simply because I could!” Hedley, 49, said in an email interview. “Even subject matters that bored me!”
“I viewed more theater than I had done (it felt like) in a lifetime,” she added.
22 percent of England’s population andhave diverse requirements — such as wheelchair access, audio description or for “relaxed” performances where audiences are allowed to make noise — this moment is causing more mixed reactions. Some fear being forgotten, andthat struggling venues will concentrate on producing in-person shows and forgo online offerings, or cut their in-person services for disabled people.
There is little evidence of that so far, and some venues say they will continue to include disabled people, but the real effect of venues’ reduced budgets won’t become clear for months.
“I will be forced to go back to being grateful for just five shows a year,” Hedley said. “It is very frustrating.”
Others are concerned, too. “I just have this sense of being left behind with people being so euphoric that they can do things in the flesh again,” Sonia Boué, an artist who is autistic, said in a telephone interview.
Before the pandemic, Boué, 58, would only visit museums if she was convinced a show would be worth the huge amount of energy the experience took. Getting the train from her home in Oxford to London could be overwhelming, she said, as coulddealing with crowds in a packed museum. “I’ve been in situations when I’ve just wanted to throw myself down on a station platform and lose it,” she said.
the painter Tracey Emin and the photographer Jo Spence, she said, with both influencing her own art. “The whole experience was so rich and wonderful,” Boué said.
emergency funding from the government.
Some high-profile venues have said they will keep working to include disabled people as they reopen. Kwame Kwei-Armah, the artistic director of the Young Vic theater in London, told The Guardian in May he wanted to livestream at least two performances of all future shows, with viewers limited to about 500 per stream, mimicking the theater’s capacity. The Young Vic intends to guarantee some of those tickets for disabled people, a spokeswoman said in an email. On Friday, the Almeida, another London theater, said it would film and released digitally its next season’s shows “where possible” but gave no further details.
But for regional theaters that are coming off a year without ticket sales, streaming may not always be possible. “It’s a huge financial outlay, making films, so you really need to think about it from the start,” Amy Leach, the associate director of Leeds Playhouse, said in a phone interview. She hoped her theater would do that for future work, she said.
People’s concerns are not just about cuts to streaming. Jessica Thom, a performer and wheelchair user who’s made work about her Tourette’s syndrome, said in a telephone interview that she was worried that some venues may see online shows as an accessibility alternative to offering the relaxed performances she loved to go to, where people were free to move around or make noise. “The anxiety about being written out is real,” she said.
Graeae, Britain’s leading deaf and disabled-led theater company, as well as “The Unknown” for Leeds Playhouse (streaming until June 5).
She has been helped in such work by being able to have meetings and rehearsals virtually. “My experiences have been incredibly inclusive,” she said, “and I think a lot of us are having the same concerns about ‘Will we go back to old ways of working, when we’re told we need to be in the room?’”
like the Globe in London, have started offering in-person performances with audio description, Wood said. But she won’t be able to attend for months. “I worked out the other day I’d need to be guided by about 25 people to go from my home to a London theater,” she said. “I can’t tell if someone is wearing a mask or not, I can’t keep distance, so I don’t feel ready,” she added.
Many other disabled people feel similarly anxious about attending events in person, she said, having been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. She was worried theaters might cut back on services assuming there isn’t demand, even if the trend for that hasn’t happened yet.
Six British museums and theaters said in emails they intended to maintain provisions for disabled audiences, and not cut back. Andrew Miller, a campaigner who was the British government’s disability champion for arts and culture until this spring, said many institutions would be hard pressed to “wriggle” out of commitments even if they for some reason wanted to, as much funding in Britain comes with a requirement to expand access. But future funding cuts could make the situation “messy,” he said. “There is a genuine worry there’ll be significantly less investment,” he added.
Boué said she just hoped British theaters and museums kept disabled people in mind. It should be easier than ever to identify with disabled people, she said. When the first lockdown hit, “it was this jaw dropping moment when everyone felt completely immobilized and like they didn’t have the freedoms they’d always taken for granted,” she said.
For once, “it was like disability was really everyone’s problem,” she added.
LONDON — At 8:30 p.m. on Monday, two friends were huddling outside St. Martin’s Theater in London’s West End doing something no one has for 14 months: arguing during the intermission over who was the murderer in “The Mousetrap,” Agatha Christie’s long-running whodunit.
“I’m convinced it’s the posh woman who runs the hotel,” said Lockie Chapman, 40, a singer, before immediately changing his mind.
“Actually, it’s the major!” he said. “Or how about that shifty Italian dude?” he added.
“The shifty Italian dude?” replied Rah Petherbridge, 37. “But he could be a red herring!”
Such debates have rung out outside the “The Mousetrap” ever since it debuted in 1952, but those accompanying the show’s 28,200th performance on Monday were significant. They marked the reopening of the West End.
Six,” the hit musical about the wives of Henry VIII, but they managed only a handful of performances before they were shut once more. Theaters had to perform to online audiences if they wanted to keep working.
Monday’s comeback felt like it was actually permanent, 15 audience members said in interviews, many highlighting Britain’s speedy vaccination campaign as the reason for their optimism. (Over 55 percent of the British population has received at least one dose, a higher proportion than in the United States.) A small but worrying surge in coronavirus cases in Britain, linked to a variant first identified in India, did not dampen their mood.
La Clemenza di Tito.” “I feel confident this time it’s for good,” said Katie Connor, 40, as several huge Rolls Royces pulled up with glamorous operagoers.
“I’m just so happy to be back,” she added. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to ugly-cry for the whole two hours and 25 minutes of the show.”
England’s theaters are not immediately allowed to return to their prepandemic state. For now, shows can open only at 50 percent capacity, and audience members must wear face masks throughout performances.
Social-distancing rules are supposed to be removed June 21, allowing full capacity, but on Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the date might be pushed back because of the recent rise in cases.
“I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress,” Johnson said.
since at least the 1970s, lacking the technical bells and whistles one would expect of a modern production. But Spiegel said that it was the best play to reopen the West End, as it had become a symbol of the city.
“It’s been through all the ups and downs of British life of the last 70 years: terrorism, economic recessions, this,” he said. “There’s not a scientific answer to why it should be first. It just feels right.”
Nick Payne’s relationship drama “Constellations” at the Donmar Warehouse. He hired four two-person casts — including famous names like Zoë Wanamaker — to try to ensure that the show wouldn’t suffer any coronavirus-induced closures, he said. “It’s such a complicated balancing act for every production,” he added.
Other theaters across England are similarly focused on small shows with lower coronavirus risks for now. The Theater Royal in Bath in southwestern England, for instance, is reopening May 25 not with a play, but with Ralph Fiennes performing T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.” The performance will then travel around England.
protesting a lack of support for arts workers.
In Berlin, theaters are also allowed to reopen on Wednesday, but only outdoors.
In the West End, most theater owners and producers seem happy to accept restrictions, including the potential use of coronavirus passports to guarantee entry. “Whatever is necessary to restart people’s ability to enjoy theater I’m OK with,” Spiegel, of “The Mousetrap,” said.
Many in the industry realize that it will be a long time before theaters are back to their old selves, employing thousands of freelancers. Some job losses are only just emerging. In April, The Stage, Britain’s theater newspaper, reported that “The Phantom of the Opera” would reopen July 27 but only with its touring orchestration, cutting the number of musicians almost in half, to 14, from 27.
“It sets a bad precedent for the whole sector,” Dan West, a trombonist who played in the show before the pandemic, said in a telephone interview. “Every small producer will say, ‘If they don’t need brass, I don’t,’” he added.
During “The Mousetrap” on Monday, any worries seemed far from people’s minds. Many audience members took off their masks to sip drinks during the show, then left them off as the tension ramped up onstage, with Detective Sergeant Trotter (Paul Hilliar) quizzing eight potential murderers.
Eventually, the perpetrator was revealed, and several audience members gasped. “See, I told you!” one shouted, being shushed by those around him.
“The Mousetrap” ended just had it had for every one of its previous 28,199 performances. “Thank you so much for your unbelievably warm reception this evening,” Hilliar said, after a standing ovation from the half-full theater.
“Now, you are our partners in crime,” he added, “and we ask you to keep the secret of whodunit locked in your hearts.”
Eurostar, the sleek and speedy high-speed train service that ties London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and other cities, will increase its timetable on May 27 to two trains per day on its once heavily traveled Paris-London route, up from just one round-trip train per day imposed during the pandemic.
The service is increasing slightly as governments in Europe plan to slowly lift longstanding national restrictions on travel designed to combat the spread of the coronavirus. From a peak of running more than 60 trains a day, Eurostar cut service during the pandemic to one daily round trip between London and Paris, and one on its London-Brussels and Amsterdam routes.
The Brussels-Amsterdam route will remain the same with one train in each direction per day, a spokesman said, adding that Eurostar will adapt its timetable should demand increase, which still depends on travel restrictions across its routes.
Eurostar’s future has been thrown into turmoil as pandemic measures led last year to a 95 percent slump in ridership, creating a cash crunch and pushing the iconic company to the brink of bankruptcy.
sold its stake in the rail company, last month declined to back a broader financial rescue package.
A spokesman for Eurostar said that it had no new details on a financial rescue, but that “conversations are still progressing.” The spokesman added that it was “too early to predict a recovery to prepandemic levels — this would be very much dependent on the easing of international travel restrictions which are yet to be confirmed.”
Eurostar trains will maintain some vacant seats onboard to allow for social distancing. The company said it was advising riders to check with their embassies before traveling, and to consult the company’s website for the latest information.
LONDON — The Group of 7 was created to help coordinate economic policy among the world’s top industrial powers. In the four decades since, it has acted to combat energy shortages, global poverty and financial crises.
But as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with fellow Group of 7 foreign ministers in London this week, a key item on the agenda will be what Mr. Blinken called, in remarks to the press on Monday, “defending democratic values and open societies.”
Implicitly, that defense is against China and, to a lesser extent, Russia. While the economic and public tasks of recovering from the coronavirus remain paramount, Mr. Blinken is also employing the Group of 7 — composed of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan — to coordinate with allies in an emerging global competition between democracy and the authoritarian visions of Moscow and Beijing.
One twist in the meeting this week is the presence of nations that are not formal Group of 7 members: India, South Korea, Australia and South Africa. Also in attendance is Brunei, the current chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations.
Ash Jain, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
Mr. Jain noted the way the group is now emphasizing common values over shared economic interests. “The G-7 is being rebranded as a group of like-minded democracies, as opposed to a group of ‘highly industrialized nations.’ They’re changing the emphasis,” he said.
Many of the countries represented at the meeting do big business with China and Russia, complicating efforts to align them against those nations. China’s pattern of economic coercion was one specific topic of conversation on Tuesday, participants said.
was expelled in 2014 from what was then the Group of 8 after its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Nor is it likely a coincidence that the expanded guest list matches, with the additions of South Africa and Brunei, a group of 10 countries and the European Union, collectively short-handed as the “D-10” by proponents of organizing them in a new world body. Those proponents include Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, the host of this week’s gathering and architect of its guest list.
Mr. Johnson has also invited India, Australia and South Korea to send their heads of state to this summer’s Group of 7 summit in Cornwall, citing his “ambition to work with a group of like-minded democracies to advance shared interests and tackle common challenges.”
President Biden has similarly suggested that the world is grouping into competing camps, divided by the openness of their political systems. In his address to Congress last week, Mr. Biden said that “America’s adversaries, the autocrats of the world, are betting” that the nation’s battered democracy cannot be restored.
also committed to holding a “Summit for Democracy” during his first year in office, and officials say planning for such an event is underway. Asked in a Tuesday interview with The Financial Times which countries might be invited to such a summit, Mr. Blinken did not answer directly.
And Wednesday’s agenda for the gathering includes a session on open societies, including issues of media freedom and disinformation. Other sessions over the two days include Syria, Russia and its neighbors Ukraine and Belarus, Myanmar, and Afghanistan.
interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” broadcast the night before, Mr. Blinken made clear how the United States views China’s rise.
Jeremy Shapiro, a former State Department official in the Obama administration who is now research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that informally expanding the Group of 7 is far easier than constructing a new body.
“It is always a pain, from a governmental perspective, to invent a new forum, because you need to have an endless discussion about who’s in and who’s out, and how it works, and its relationship to the U.N.,” Mr. Shapiro said.
He added that the Group of 7, whose mission had grown nebulous in recent years, may have acquired a new sense of purpose as it tries to organize a post-Trump democratic world in the face of Chinese and Russian threats.
“You would be hard-pressed to look back the past five years or more since they kicked out Russia to name a single thing the G-7 has done of interest,” Mr. Shapiro said. “It didn’t have much to do.”
In recent months, the chief executive of Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, has come under increasingly intense pressure as pro-government voices and leaders of the state governments headed by opposition politicians criticized him alike.
Some accused him for delays in supplying vaccines; some called him a “profiteer” for not offering Covid vaccines to state governments at cost. There were calls for his company to be nationalized.
In an interview with the Times of London published on Saturday, the executive, Adar Poonawalla, described menacing calls from some of the most powerful men in India, creating an environment so ugly that he anticipated being out of the country for an extended period while he made plans to start producing vaccines elsewhere.
“‘Threats’ is an understatement,” Mr. Poonawalla said. “The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented.”
struggling to vaccinate itself out of a crisis as a voracious second wave leaves a tableau of death and despair. When cases were relatively low, the country exported more than 60 million shots. On Saturday, India expanded vaccinations to all people over 18, but many states said that they would not be able to meet the demand because of a shortage of doses.
Less than 2 percent of India’s 940 million adults have been fully vaccinated, according to data compiled from government sources by the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. The country’s biggest city, Mumbai, just halted all vaccinations because it essentially ran out, and several states reported vaccine shortages as well.
All that has made Mr. Poonawalla, a 40-year-old billionaire, a focus for public anger.
Last month, Serum Institute wrote a letter to India’s federal home minister asking for security, citing the threats to Mr. Poonawalla. Just a few days ago, the federal government said it had completed a threat assessment and would have the Central Reserve Police Force protect him. On the same day, Mr. Poonawalla announced on Twitter that he was unilaterally lowering the cost of a Covid vaccine to make it more affordable for government purchase.