Four of the biggest pantomimes in London have announced their productions will be postponed until 2021.
Hackney Empire, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Theatre Royal Stratford East will not be producing their annual pantos this year due to the continued uncertainty of government guidelines for restarting public performances.
Between them, these four theatres’ Pantomimes were seen by over 145,000 people last year, including over 40,500 schoolchildren, many of whom would have been seeing their first theatre.
Each year, they create a new and unique Panto, working with talented performers and creatives as well as the local communities. Every winter, these Pantos provide opportunities for new talent to make their professional debut.
These four theatres typically employ over 285 freelancers in creating these productions – writers, directors, designers, actors, technicians, stage management and more. The Pantomime season has a huge financial impact not just for theatres but for those working across the theatre industry.
As Pantomime producers have been saying for the last few months, the production process for these large-scale shows has to begin at the start of August. With no announcement on when theatre can reopen without social distancing – which would make putting on a Panto economically viable – these theatres have had to make the difficult decision to postpone until 2021.
Yamin Choudury, Artistic Director and Jo Hemmant, Executive Director, Hackney Empire said:
“Firstly we want to thank everybody for their passionate and tireless support, particularly over the last five months, the donations and messages of love and encouragement we have received have given us the strength we need to keep pushing forward in increasingly punishing circumstances. It makes decisions like today’s even more difficult. 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.”
Douglas Rintoul, Artistic Director and Mathew Russell, Executive Director, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch said:
“Whilst we’re excited that audiences will still get to see our latest pantomime Aladdin in 2021, fingers tightly crossed, we’re incredibly sad that this is the first time since 1953 that Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch won’t be producing a pantomime. It’s the highlight of everyone’s year – for audiences of all ages and the team at the Theatre too – celebrating togetherness through a riot of silliness and spectacle. The experience is so important for huge numbers – for children enjoying the magic of their first theatre visit, those who go to the theatre once a year and our most loyal followers, who’ve been enjoying Hornchurch pantos for a long time. The impact on the charity’s finances will be pretty dreadful too, and we’ll be seeking and needing lots of extra support to get us through the rest of 2020 without it. In the meantime, we’re hopeful that they’ll be a different and smaller but still very special alternative festive offering, which bookers can read more about on our website.”
Nadia Fall, Artistic Director and Eleanor Lang, Executive Director, Theatre Royal Stratford East said:
“Panto has been part of the Stratford East Christmas since 1884 and so it’s with a heavy heart that we have to postpone Red Riding Hood. So many people tell us that the Stratford East panto is the first thing they saw as a child, and so many families come every year as their Christmas tradition, and each year over 11,000 school children come to our panto too. It’s also our biggest show; employing a wide range of freelancers, who may now have no work over the Christmas period. Panto means so much to our audiences, the artists and freelancers that put it together and to us as a building. Despite the disappointment for this year, we are determined that we will have a brilliant panto in the making by Carl Miller and Robert Hyman next year and we can’t wait to share Red Riding Hood with 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.
In addition to the above London venues, Selladoor’s subsidiary company Prime Pantomimes announced today that they will be postponing their 2020 pantomime season until 2021. Pantomimes include Aladdin at New Theatre Peterborough, Cinderella at Queen’s Theatre Barnstaple and Snow White at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre.
David Hutchinson CEO of Selladoor worldwide said: “It is with huge disappointment that we have made the difficult decision to postpone our pantomime season for 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 Crisis. At this time, without guidance on when theatres will be able to fully reopen – we can’t further risk the business. Instead we are focusing on reimagining our business plan and strategising for the future in order for us to weather the next stage of this crisis. We are exploring options for bridging this period with imaginative programming and engagement work to ensure we maintain the crucial connection between our audiences and artists with our café open and an outdoor festival planned for the Landmark in Ilfracombe and cinema screenings at the New Theatre in Peterborough along with localised fundraising campaigns. The stark reality is that as our pantos fall victim to Covid – the business moves into a critical stage, as we focus on business continuity and survival.”
David continues: “The loss of our loyal staff members is devastating. We have been doing all we can to protect and retain all of our employees but the extended period of closure and a lack of any income has put us in an impossible position where we simply cannot afford to sustain our staffing levels. This news will come as a further blow to the many freelancers and creative practitioners that are involved in bringing our pantos to life each year, and for that I feel terrible. After a horrendous year for freelancers, we are actively thinking of how we build our world class freelance talent into our bridging programme as our theatre remain closed – as it’s vital we all survive this period together. The postponement of pantomime means that now, more than ever, we need you to continue to support the arts and your local venues”