Thursday, 7 January 2021

Pantomime Round-Up 2020

Usually around this time the vast majority of the three hundred or more Pantomimes end their Christmas runs and cast and crew get a well-earned rest after an intensive fifty-plus show season to packed houses all around the UK. Families will have celebrated together the festive fun and excitement of theatre and young children will have had the first experience of a live show. What is more, the regional theatres will have earned enough income to sustain the venue throughout the year ahead until the next Christmas. 

The Pandemic has changed that for the 2020/21 season with around 200 cancelled or postponed early in the year until 2021 before they even began rehearsals and worse still only a couple opening and completing the scheduled runs. Those Producers who took the chance to go ahead and rehearse, market, and open a show were stopped in their tracks by Tier 3 and 4 closures or worse the need to self-isolate cast members due to illnesses. Many of those affected by closure either planned or rushed to capture their shows so that they could be streamed into our homes. Cinemas do provide a great outlet for captured Theatre, but they too were largely closed so the only way to view was on the home PC / Smart TV. According to the British Theatre Guide some eighty shows were available to view.

Curiously the usually most prolific producer QDOS with 35 shows in a normal season resisted the temptation to stream any archived shows or to capture any of the ten shows that the National Heritage helped to fund to "save Christmas" so many of the biggest Pantomime stars were not to be seen. They did manage to open Pantoland at the Palladium, Sleeping Beauty at the Mayflower in Southampton, and Robinson Crusoe in Plymouth but the first closed soon after opening when London went into tier 3, Southampton closed due to cast illness and Plymouth nearly completed its run until it fell foul of another move into tier 3 regulations. 

Pocket Size Theatre reviewed many streamed shows and a few of the live ones that made it to the stage so in this round-up of the season we decided to make a few awards to celebrate the endeavour of the Creative teams, casts and crews.

The Funniest Pantomime

The Mayflower show was excellent a real tonic for audiences starved of live theatre with a wonderful trio at the heart of it, Joe Pasquale, Lesley Joseph, and Ceri Dupree. It was well judged in its mix of content, brilliantly executed by the talented cast, and safely managed by the super front of house staff. There is no doubt that the shared experience of a live audience added to the Laughter.

In the hands of a strong cast of Les Dennis, Andy Ford, Simon Webbe, and the Timbuktu Tumblers although the Robinson Crusoe title is a weaker show, it was still packed with good routines and plenty of silly laughs. Sadly, the Palladium show closed the day before we were due to see it but with Julian Clary and the rest of the returning cast it was no doubt outrageous as usual.

As venues closed, we tuned into the online streams and applauded all those producers who attempted to create Pantomime fun in our homes. There were a range of different approaches, but our winners were:

Best Use of a script

Winner is Paul Hendy at Evolution who created several versions of the same script about trying to save the Essence of Pantomime from Professor Von BadApple/FleshCreep with his usual leading cast members at venues including the Marlowe in Canterbury, the Crucible in Sheffield, and Garrick in Lichfield

Best socially distanced joke

Winner is Jack in the Beanstalk at Belgrade Coventry which introduced a two-metre-long cow so that the actor in the front half and back half were socially distanced!

Runner ups are Nurse Nellie saves Panto at Marlowe and Jack and the Beanstalk at Garrick for their four-metre-long bench for the legendary socially distanced Ghost bench scene.

Best “If I was not in Pantomime” routine

Winner is UK Productions Pantomonium at Blackpool Grand who had rewritten the traditional show-stopping routine to feature familiar characters from 2020 the Postman, Vaccinator, PE Instructor and Politician into a frenetic hilarious and breathless show highlight.

Best Interactivity in the home

Winner is Sleeping Trees (The Legend of Moby Dick Whittington) whose home shot video cleverly included tasks for its young audience to complete at home to help the story move along on-screen creating an active interaction that was missing from other streams.

Runner up is the Charles Court Opera (Snow White and seven months of lockdown) who gave the audience control of various alternative video streams by asking them to select an option which changed the next few minutes of the show.

Most Leading Cast members in a Pantomime

Winner is Anton Benson Production whose script called Once upon a Pantomime included the twenty Pantomime stars from TV reality shows, quizzes and soaps who were booked to play their venues and therefore mashed up four pantomimes to create multiple villain and heroine roles.

Best use of Editing

The Winner is Imagines’ Jack and the Beanstalk which cleverly used the capture and edit process to slickly tell the story with a limited cast, to add to the humour and included plenty of traditional business.

The Runner up is Peter Duncan’s Jack and the Beanstalk who boldly staged his version in his back garden during the summer between lockdowns which worked well as a location, told the whole story, and was edited together into a short enjoyable film.

Best Musical Supervision

Winner is Ed Court for KidZania version of Cinderella who included versions of BeyoncĂ© "We run the world", Queen "Somebody to love", the Friends Theme "I'll be there for you", James Blunt "You are beautiful", Mariah Carey/Whitney Houston "When you Believe”, BeyoncĂ© "Crazy in love", Streisand "Rain on my Parade" and from Trolls Film "Move your Feet/DANCE".

Runner up is James Harrison from Evolution productions including a Fairy who raps, heroine who sings an enjoyable version of "Confident", a villain who sings a Hamilton parody of "I'll be back”, a very good "Don't stop believing" dance and a Blues Brothers Finale. As well pays tribute to the great double acts with Morecambe and Wise's "Bring me sunshine" and Cannon and Ball's "Laugh me a Laugh". 

Best Archived Pantomime from previous years.

The Winner is the First Family Entertainment archived 2014 Bristol Hippodrome production of Dick Whittington with Eric Potts as the Dame and with Ashleigh and Pudsey, available free through the “Show Must Go On” Youtube channel which reminded us what a full Pantomime should look like in expert hands.

This was probably the first time many of these producers had turned to cameras to capture their shows and it sometimes showed. Lighting needs to be adapted for TV, cast need personal microphones to capture the audio properly and the edit needs to add the magic with close-ups and special effects to replace the excitement of a being in a theatre. The potential of the medium was fully demonstrated by the brilliant capture of The Old Vic's production A Christmas Carol and Sonia Friedman's wonderful Uncle Vanya which showed how the process could enhance the show for the small screen at a cost.

The question is in future years will captured Pantomimes provide ancillary income to the producers making investments in the capture worthwhile or will they see it as a too risky strategy? The evidence from Event cinema is that broadcasts do not harm ticket sales at the originating venues and can act as a promotion encouraging some to go to a theatre for the live shared experience. However, Pantomime is one theatrical genre that is best enjoyed in a venue full of children and their parents joyously joining in with a lively comical cast. As 2021 starts it is to be hoped that Producers and Venues will have the financial resources to return to staging large scale magical Pantomimes this December to provide employment for so many freelance cast and crew and enjoyment for families and communities around the country. I for one can’t wait to be back in those theatres.
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