Oh yes it is! Pantomime will be back in the West End

Pantomime, in peril because of the pandemic, will be returning to the West End.

Julian Clary, Ashley Banjo and Diversity, Nigel Havers and Beverley Knight will star in the show, in front of a socially-distanced audience, at the London Palladium.

Producers said the three week-run would provide a “sticking plaster” on the “big theatrical wound” caused by Covid-19.

It is made possible due to a National Lottery initiative to buy seats which must remain empty for social distancing.

Ashley Banjo and Diversity as The Sultan and His Advisers
Ashley Banjo and Diversity as The Sultan and His Advisers

More productions at other venues will be confirmed in the coming weeks.

Pantoland at The Palladium director and producer Michael Harrison said the event “promises to be a spectacular and exciting celebration of this wonderful art form that has been so devastated and decimated by Covid-19.

“There is no doubt producing a show of this size and scale is a risk – but it is a risk we have to take,” he said.

“This is not a long-term fix, nor a solution to the tragic situation our industry is in, it simply provides a sticking plaster on a very big theatrical wound as we hopefully prepare for full openings in 2021.”

In these unprecedented times we are delighted to announce the continuation of our annual pantomime tradition – presenting a galaxy of stars in Pantoland at The Palladium, an all-new celebration of festive cheer, charm and campery from 12 December 2020! pic.twitter.com/cdbUxw9nzy

— Pantoland at The London Palladium (@PalladiumPanto) October 9, 2020

The production will now mean “over 200 people will now have jobs over Christmas” and will help with “the rehabilitation of London’s vibrant West End”, he said.

The show will “celebrate the very best of pantomime, with comedy in abundance” and will also star Paul Zerdin, Gary Wilmot, Charlie Stemp and Jac Yarrow.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, who owns several West End theatres, including the Palladium, said: “Christmas 2020 needs a pantomime, and this one … has never meant so much to our industry and our audiences.

“Opening Pantoland at The Palladium will provide crucial support to struggling restaurants, hotels and other hospitality businesses across the West End, leading to thousands of vital jobs on stage, off stage and backstage.”

Paul Zerdin and Sam in Goldilocks And The Three Bears at the London Palladium
Paul Zerdin and Sam in Goldilocks And The Three Bears at the London Palladium

The theatre owner and composer, who previously ran a pilot to try to demonstrate that theatres are safe without social distancing, with special measures in place, added: “By next spring, our major productions across London’s beloved West End must – and will – be back.

“I sincerely hope that this pantomime brings a moment of much-needed festive cheer as we continue to fight for the revival of our wonderful and vital theatre industry.”

Nigel Railton, chief executive of National Lottery operator Camelot, said: “We are delighted to be working with productions across the nation to make socially-distanced panto happen this Christmas.”

Cinderella at the Nottingham Playhouse
Cinderella at the Nottingham Playhouse

Rebecca Kane Burton, chief executive of LW Theatres, which includes the Palladium, said: “We have all the measures in place to ensure people feel safe, confident and, most importantly, excited to be back with us.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Today we launch Operation Sleeping Beauty (a plan to bring some theatre back by Christmas). We must hope for the best and plan for the worst.

“Our hope is to get some panto back on this Christmas, and despite the very challenging backdrop we are going to give it our best shot.

“We have already supported the sector with our £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund and I’m grateful to National Lottery players for helping to make this happen.”

It comes as Nottingham Playhouse also announced a Christmas pantomime, which is not part of the National Lottery initiative, a “glittery reimagining of ultimate fairy tale adventure”, Cinderella.

Its artistic director Adam Penford said: “Christmas in Nottingham just wouldn’t be the same without a Playhouse panto, it’s a major part of the cultural calendar.

“So this year we will be mounting a special version of the most popular panto title in the land, Cinderella.

“Whilst there will be necessary changes to bring it to the stage and ensure safety is paramount, it will still contain all the fun, magic and festive cheer of the classic Playhouse panto, which audiences know and love.”

Performances of Pantoland at the Palladium will begin on December 12, running until January 3, with tickets on sale from Friday. Information for Cinderella is at https://nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk/events/cinderella