Odeon gives MailOnline an insight into new cinema experience

Covid hasn’t killed cinema… yet: Odeon Leicester Square gives MailOnline a look at the new Big Screen experience with staff in perspex visors and film fans spaced a seat apart as bosses insist the ‘Hollywood magic is still there’

Friday night in central London: I am standing in the foyer of Odeon’s flagship cinema in Leicester Square. 

Cinema-goers in face masks are waiting in line to buy food and drinks, and showing staff their tickets before taking their seats in the huge 800-capacity auditorium.

I see friends, families and couples — in total, around 80 people. They are giddy with excitement about watching Christopher Nolan’s new spy thriller Tenet on a big screen after months of streaming movies from their laptops.

A few, such as 36-year-old cinema-goer Marvin Fraser, tell me the experience of being at the cinema again is ‘nerve-wracking’ and believe there are still too many people in the auditorium.

Still, Covid hasn’t killed British cinema… yet. To revive the industry, Odeon Leicester Square has taken every possible step to protect public health — and they really want you to know that they are making the effort.

Tessa Street, Odeon Leicester Square’s general manager, tells me: ‘We’re excited to welcome everyone back to the cinema, and we really want people to know that the Hollywood magic is still there.

‘We have put a huge range of measures in place to make sure people are safe. For us, the safety of our customers and our staff is absolutely paramount.’

Cinema-goers in face masks are seated in the huge 800-capacity auditorium in Odeon Luxe in Leicester Square, London

Cinema-goers in face masks are seated in the huge 800-capacity auditorium in Odeon Luxe in Leicester Square, London

Cinema-goers queue at the kiosk to buy popcorn and hotdogs before the film starts at Odeon Luxe in Leicester Square

Odeon Luxe staff in Leicester Square, London conduct a ‘deep clean’ of the auditorium after every screening

Tessa Street, Odeon Luxe’s general manager, tells me: ‘We’re excited to welcome everyone back to the cinema, and we really want people to know that the Hollywood magic is still there. ‘We have put a huge range of measures in place to make sure people are safe. For us, the safety of our customers and our staff is absolutely paramount’

Odeon Leicester Square’s Covid-safe measures include ‘one way’ systems and floor plans which tell people where to stand and how to keep two metres apart from other cinema-goers.

Customers have to come in through one door and out the other, and use hand sanitiser upon entry. Odeon Leicester Square staff wearing perspex visors or masks encourage customers to cover their faces.

Odeon Leicester Square continues to sell cinema favourites hot dogs and nachos, but has axed vegan burgers, chicken strips, mozzarella sticks and afternoon tea to ‘simplify’ its menu.

When cinema-goers finally get inside the auditorium, each group is separated from the other by a seat — the Government’s so-called ‘one metre plus’ guidance in action.

What Odeon Leicester Square doesn’t tell you is that staff have to clean ‘high-touch areas’ frequently: surfaces and touch screens at ticket kiosks have to be wiped every 15 minutes, and door handles and toilets every 30 minutes. They even have to wash their hands every single time they handle paper money.

Cinema-goers entering Odeon Luxe in Leicester Square, London following the cinema’s ‘one way’ traffic flow system

Cinema-goers wash their hands with sanitiser at the entrance before taking their seat at Odeon Luxe in Leicester Square

Cinema-goers excited to see Christopher Nolan’s Tenet show staff their tickets at Odeon Luxe in Leicester Square, London

Cinema-goers queue at the kiosk to buy popcorn and hotdogs before the film starts at Odeon Luxe in Leicester Square

In a bid to prevent Covid transmission, Odeon Leicester Square has slashed their daily screenings down to three from its pre-lockdown four, and paused its midnight showings on Fridays and Saturdays. For a cinema which has still not reopened its huge 550-seat balcony, these measures are hard-hitting.

Meanwhile, staff have to empty the theatre one row at a time and conduct a ‘deep clean’ with anti-viral sprays and wipes for half an hour after each screening — before starting all over again.

Odeon Leicester Square closed its doors to the public on March 20, just three days before Boris Johnson ordered the British people to ‘stay at home’ in a televised address.

It tentatively reopened its only auditorium on August 21 and spent the next week screening popular classics including Stars Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Dirty Dancing, Jurassic Park, and Inception to entice people back. The cinema started screening Nolan’s Tenet on Wednesday at a flat £25 fare for adults.

Tessa says: ‘We decided to close the cinema on March 20 before the Government indicated that we should. But I didn’t think that we would be closed this long.

Mustafa Aslantürk, 39, says: ‘I am so excited to watch good movies on bigger screens again. I don’t think corona is going to be the end of cinema, in my opinion. People like cinemas.’


Cinema-goers excited to see Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (left: Stefano Dunne; right: Fatih Kaygusuz)

Ticket officers Yoshi Bravo (left), 18, and Fleur Mitchell (right), 21, as they check people’s tickets at Odeon Luxe in London

Odeon Luxe staff in Leicester Square, London conduct a ‘deep clean’ of the auditorium after every screening 

Odeon Luxe staff in Leicester Square, London conduct a ‘deep clean’ of the auditorium after every screening

Odeon Luxe staff in Leicester Square, London conduct a ‘deep clean’ of the auditorium after every screening

Odeon Luxe staff in Leicester Square, London conduct a ‘deep clean’ of the auditorium after every screening

‘Everybody talks about how ‘unprecedented’ the lockdown has been. But maybe we were a bit naive or a bit over-optimistic thinking that it would last just a few weeks. 

‘The Government’s messaging was much more successful in keeping people home than anyone expected.

‘In that time, we’ve found that people treasure going to the cinema, in spite of streaming services. You can’t replace the experience of the big screen and big speakers with a laptop at home.

‘We’ve found that there’s growing fatigue about how people watch their movie, and our customers have been telling us that they’re ready to come back.

‘So the question has been: How do we reopen quickly but in a safe and sensible way?’

According to Tessa, the Covid-safe measures were introduced to quash the concerns of her employees as well as cinema-goers. She explains: ‘The key is confidence.

Tessa Street, Odeon Luxe’s general manager, tells me: ‘We’re excited to welcome everyone back to the cinema, and we really want people to know that the Hollywood magic is still there. ‘We have put a huge range of measures in place to make sure people are safe. For us, the safety of our customers and our staff is absolutely paramount’

Excited Odeon Luxe staff in Leicester Square, London greet cinema-goers flocking to see Christopher Nolan’s Tenet

Cinema-goers in face masks are seated in the huge 800-capacity auditorium in Odeon Luxe in Leicester Square, London

Cinema-goers in face masks are seated in the huge 800-capacity auditorium in Odeon Luxe in Leicester Square, London

‘We decided not to rush the reopening, but go slow and steady with it and gradually build customer confidence. We want people to recommend going to the cinema again. 

‘Like all businesses, a huge part of our future success will rely on word-of-mouth.

‘Next, we wanted to build confidence in the staff who have to get used to the new measures and need to know what they’re doing — so we didn’t force anyone to come back.

‘We told them they should only come back if they felt happy to. The result was that our 60 staff came back in full to us, which was great news.

‘After that we sat them down and went through the new safety measures, a kind of training, in July. That really helped to allay their concerns.

‘In fact, more people were concerned about using public transport again — how to get in, whether or not other people will get too close, where they’ve been — than getting back to work.

‘When we finally did reopen, it was like the first day of school. Most staff were happy to be coming back, but the new measures took some getting used to.’

Signs at Odeon Luxe in Leicester Square, London tell cinema-goers to keep their distance while in the cinema

A few privately grumble about wearing face masks in the auditorium, with married 29-year-olds Elliot and Bianca Myers both telling me coverings are ‘annoying but necessary’


Raphael Hernandez (left), 22, and Stefano Dunne (right), 23, tell me they put the Covid-safe measures out of their minds while watching Tenet, with Raphael adding: ‘They take Covid so seriously, coming to the cinema is safer than being in a pub!’

She adds: ‘Staff can wear either a visor or a face mask. I wear a visor because I like people to be able to see my face when I talk, but even that’s strange and takes an adjustment.’

Some of the younger staff, such as ticket officers Yoshi Bravo, 18, and Fleur Mitchell, 21, tell me that they had reservations about coming back to work after months of lockdown. 

Others, such as 47-year-old Will Goodchild, were just ‘desperate to get back’. ‘Being at the cinema is so important, for us as well as our customers,’ he tells me.

‘People are really happy to come out and see films on the big screen again. I was desperate to get back, to be honest. For me, I lived on my own during lockdown, so I was really ready to have contact with everyone again.

‘The best part of coming back was that no one was made to come back. We were told that we could stay away for longer until we were ready or felt safe.’ 

Most cinema-goers are happy wearing face masks during the two-hour film, such as Danish tourists Maya Lindegaard, 39, and Thoreborm Nicolaison, 41 — though Odeon staff say customers don’t have to don coverings when they eat or drink

Pictured: staff member shows social distance seating plan at on a device at Odeon Luxe in Leicester Square, London

Odeon Luxe staff in Leicester Square, London cleaning the ticket kiosk after customers use it to buy tickets for Tenet

Most cinema-goers are happy wearing face masks, such as Danish tourists Maya Lindegaard, 39, and Thoreborm Nicolaison, 41 — though Odeon staff tell me that customers don’t have to don coverings when they eat or drink.

A few privately grumble about wearing face masks for two hours in the auditorium, with married 29-year-olds Elliot and Bianca Myers both telling me coverings are ‘annoying but necessary’.

Coming out of an earlier viewing, 35-year-old Mo Aovao says he got so uncomfortable wearing a mask that he had to slip it off his mouth without anybody noticing him.

Above all, I sense that most people are glad that they’ve been able to turn off their phone, stop thinking about work, and suspend reality for a couple of hours — with or without a face mask on.

Friends Raphael Hernandez, 22, and Stefano Dunne, 23, tell me they put the Covid-safe measures out of their minds while watching Tenet, with Raphael humorously adding: ‘They take Covid so seriously, coming to the cinema is safer than being in a pub!’

And as Mustafa Aslantürk, 39, says: ‘I am so excited to watch good movies on bigger screens again. I don’t think corona is going to be the end of cinema, in my opinion. People like cinemas.’ 

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