The (Christmas) Show Must Go On

Child in Rudolf reindeer antlers with family in theatre stalls

The way we were. Christmas at the Royal Albert Hall. image by Andy Paradise

In August, the decision was made by many producers and large venues to postpone their annual pantomimes to winter 2021. Every day throughout the month, more cancellations were announced, with most of the traditional big city pantos being scrapped. But is it really going to be a wasteland out there come December? Fiona Horan tracked down some of the theatres that are still determined to put on a show this Christmas.

The Playhouse, Weston-super-Mare

This seaside theatre is offering Sleeping Beauty – “a socially distanced festive experience for the whole family”. It will be scaled down with an adjusted seating plan and no interval to avoid queues in the bar or aisles. Find out more here.

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Another seaside theatre which is doing its best to return to action. A new autumn schedule of live performances has been announced and the Christmas show, The Snow Queen, has been adapted by the writer for just one performer – which sounds intriguing. Find out more here.

Theatre Royal, St Helens

St Helens Theatre Royal had to cancel their planned pantomime Cinderella, starring Linda Robson, as financially unviable due to Covid-19 restrictions. However, they have bounced back with an alternate pantomime, Beauty and the Beast, with Jamie Greer as Potty Polly; Abigail Middleton as Madame Botox; Scott Gallagher as French Frank; Olivia Sloyan as Belle; Andrew Geater as The Beast; Tim Lucas as Gaston; and Jenna Sian O’Hara as Fairy Rose.  Find out more here.

Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells

Tunbridge Wells will have a pantomime this year. The Assembly Hall Theatre have had a re-think and pulled Jack and the Beanstalk out of the hat. As they say:-

“Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs didn’t have their say,

Fear not as Miss Corona-Virus hasn’t won the day,

After all her efforts we’ve brought a panto back,

Albeit a little smaller, let’s all welcome Jack!!!”

The show will run for quite a short season from 18th December to 3rd January. The open air ice rink in nearby park Calverley Grounds is also returning and theatregoers can book for skating as well on the theatre’s website for more festive fun. Find out more here.

The Watermill Theatre, near Newbury

This highly-regarded venue is offering a festive retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol from 26th November to 3rd January. Two actor musicians will bring Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim and a host of extraordinary characters to life in this new adaptation. Pre-show dining is available during the autumn and winter season. Find out more here.

National Theatre, London

The National Theatre is planning an in-the-round version of the pantomime Dick Whittington at the Olivier Theatre. Find out more here.

Royal Albert Hall, London

The Royal Albert Hall may not usually offer a panto at Christmas, but there is always plenty of festive fun to be had with carol concerts, ballets and other seasonal events. After a devastating six months, the venue has managed to adapt much of its schedule and will open its doors to a live audience again this December with a programme of Christmas favourites. The season will feature essentials from the Hall’s Christmas tradition, including the Royal Choral Society and Handel’s Messiah – both staples since 1871 – alongside Christmas carols, The Nutcracker, Guy Barker’s Big Band Christmas and the family show, My Christmas Orchestral Adventure.

Presented under Covid-19 secure guidelines, the concerts will create a safe and comfortable environment for audiences to celebrate together again – with measures including socially-distanced seating, e-tickets, deep-cleaning, staggered entry times to reduce queues, temperature checks, a face covering policy, and sanitising stations throughout the venue.
Craig Hassall, CEO of the Royal Albert Hall, said-:

“Six months on from enforced closure, we are excited beyond words to open our doors to the public for what will be a joyful, stirring and historic occasion.

“It remains the case that socially-distanced performances are financially unviable in the long term. Although this model is not sustainable with such reduced capacities, we are opening because I firmly believe this is what the country needs. It is an investment into our future – to protect the jobs of our highly skilled staff, to stimulate the local economy and the wider arts ecosystem, and to fulfil significant audience demand.

“Christmas has always been a time of great celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall, where people have come together since 1871 – from Vera Lynn at the end of the Blitz, to HM The Queen’s first public Christmas address. It is essential for us to carry on this spirit in what has been a year of disruption.”

I suspect Craig Hassall speaks for many of the other venues in this list, whose Christmas productions are probably not commercially viable but have been brought to the stage in the hope of better days ahead and a desire to re-connect with audiences.
Let’s hope that this is not a last hurrah for British theatre.


You may be interested in reading:-

Tentative return of British theatre

Crunch time for Christmas as pantos evaporate