Four of the biggest pantomimes in London will not go ahead this year because of uncertainty over when indoor performances can resume without social distancing.
Hackney Empire, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Theatre Royal Stratford East have all announced they will not be producing their annual pantomimes this year and will postpone until 2021.
Last year the four festive shows at those theatres were attended by more than 145,000 people, including more than 40,500 schoolchildren.
PANTO UPDATE : like many theatres across the country we have had to make a very hard decision about this years panto and are postponing until 2021. We will be in touch with bookers shortly and thank you all for your patience and support 🙏 #SaveHackneyEmpire#pantomimepic.twitter.com/5x67OOWshg
— Hackney Empire (@HackneyEmpire) August 10, 2020
The fours shows usually employ more than 285 freelance artists, including writers, directors, designers, actors, technicians and stage management.
The production process for such large-scale pantomimes would have begun at the start of August and the theatres have said that without an announced date from the Government on when theatre performances can resume without social distancing to make the productions economically viable, they will have to postpone.
Yamin Choudury, artistic director and Jo Hemmant, executive director of the Hackney Empire, which was due to stage Jack And The Beanstalk, 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.
We are desperately sad to announce the postponement of Aladdin to 2021.
It was a very hard decision but one we had to make to ensure the future of our theatre. All affected customers have been contacted.
— Lyric Hammersmith Theatre (@LyricHammer) August 10, 2020
“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!”
Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch were both due to stage Aladdin, while Theatre Royal Stratford East was due to produce Little Red Riding Hood. All shows have now been postponed until 2021.
A number of other pantomimes in London and regional theatres have been cancelled or postponed due to uncertainty around the easing of lockdown restrictions.
Last week the chief executive of Birmingham Hippodrome said its decision to cancel its Christmas pantomime was made to avoid a potential “death blow” to its finances.
Blackpool Grand Theatre has announced it will cancel its Christmas show; Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.
Ruth Eastwood, chief executive of the theatre, said: “Like our theatregoers we are incredibly disappointed that we will be unable to stage our fantastic pantomime this Christmas but are pleased that this is only a temporary postponement and that Steve Royle will star in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs in December 2021.
“This yearly event is part of the very foundations of the Blackpool Grand and we cannot stress how after decades of pantomime we are devastated to be unable to proceed this year.”