Hackney Empire, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Theatre Royal Stratford East will be postponing their 2020 pantomimes by a year due to the continued uncertainty of government guidelines for restarting public performances.
All four theatres have a long tradition of producing high quality and community driven pantos, last year their shows were enjoyed by over 145,000 people, including over 40,500 schoolchildren, many of whom would have been experiencing theatre for the first time. Each panto is created uniquely for the theatre and its community working with some of the UK’s most talented artists and providing opportunities for new talent to make their professional debuts.
These four pantos typically employ over 285 freelance artists, including writers, directors, designers, actors, technicians, stage management and many more, demonstrating the financial impact panto has not only for a theatre, but across the theatre industry.
The production process for such a large-scale show as panto would have begun at the start of August. Without an announced date from the Government on when theatre performances could resume without social distancing, making doing such a production economically viable, these theatres have now had to take the hard decision to postpone to 2021.
Yamin Choudury, artistic director, and Jo Hemmant, executive director, Hackney Empire said:
“Everyone involved in bringing our world-famous pantomime to Hackney is devastated, but we know that we have to make any decision necessary, however unimaginable a few months ago, to ensure that Hackney Empire can remain this incredible and singular sanctuary of creativity and togetherness for another 120 years and more.
“Pantomimes are long and expensive to plan and produce, monopolising the minds, efforts and generosity of hundreds of people in the process. Writers, directors, composers and performers, designers, builders, technicians and stage managers, box office and front of house staff who greet you every single night for over 60 performances, the list goes on and despite potential government funding for some – to be confirmed at a later date – the numbers just don’t add up while uncertainty remains on reopening timing and restrictions.
“We need to stay strong until we can welcome audiences back when it is safe to do so. This doesn’t mean that nothing will be happening at Hackney Empire over the holidays. We are working on a festive programme (stay tuned…) for our audience to enjoy this December. It will be on a smaller scale to our usual offering, but it will be just as magical; maybe fewer custard pies, but even more fairy dust!”
Rachel O’Riordan, artistic director, and Sian Alexander, executive director, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre said: “We are desperately sad to be postponing the Lyric’s 2020 panto Aladdin to 2021. It was a very hard decision but one we had to make to ensure the future of our theatre and manage the unprecedented levels of risk during this difficult and uncertain time. We have a long history of panto at the Lyric; our first was in 1897. It is a magical time of year for our theatre, the artists we work with and our community – we love seeing many generations of families coming together to experience the joy of panto.
“Economically panto is massively important to the theatre industry, it is also for many their first experience of live theatre and for others the first opportunity to work professionally. We are incredibly proud of the talent that has come through our Panto Ensemble, which provides a pathway into our industry for many young people who go on to have incredible careers in theatre. We are committed to panto being back in its rightful place on our stage in the heart of Hammersmith and delighting our audiences in 2021.”
The customers for each panto will be contacted by the theatre they have booked with moving their booking to the equivalent performance in 2021.
The announcement by the four theatres follows recent news from the world’s biggest pantomime producer, Qdos Entertainment, that the company would be going into individual negotiations with venues across the UK about the future of their Christmas shows. The Theatre Royal Nottingham, New Theatre Hull, Birmingham Hippodrome, King’s Theatre Edinburgh, Her Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen and the Grand Opera House Belfast have already postponed their pantomimes to 2021/22. Producers at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury and the Tron Theatre in Glasgow have also had to make the same difficult decision.