London theatres Hackney Empire, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Theatre Royal Stratford East have jointly announced that their 2020 pantos – a cornerstone of each theatre’s programming for well over 100 years – won’t be going ahead as planned in this annus most horribilis. Just when we needed those belly laughs and a bit of slapstick silliness the most.
The production process for these pantos typically starts in August but can’t go ahead this year, with the government yet to announce a date for theatres to safely return after lockdown. Hackney Empire – which was planning a ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ extravaganza – says it will instead focus on smaller-scale Christmas productions for December 2020, with its Clive Rowe-starring panto now postponed until November 2021.
Last year, pantomimes at these four theatres were enjoyed by more than 145,000 people, including over 40,500 schoolchildren. While the news will be sad for regular audiences, the impact will be felt most heavily among their large casts and crews, with the theatres collectively employing over 285 freelance artists each year. All four theatres are also calling for donations from those who can and would like to help support them in these challenging times, with a crowdfunder for Hackney Empire now halfway towards its £100,000 target.
The Lyric Hammersmith, which staged its first panto back in 1897, said it is ‘desperately sad’ about the decision in a joint statement issued by its artistic director Rachel O’Riordan and its executive director Sian Alexander: ‘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.’
The new scheduled dates for these pantos are as follows:
‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, Hackney Empire, Nov 2021-Jan 2022 (dates TBC). Support Hackney Empire here.
‘Aladdin’, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, Nov 13 2021-Jan 2 2022. Support the Lyric here.
‘Aladdin’, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, Nov 25 2021-Jan 2 2022. Support Queen’s Theatre here.
‘Red Riding Hood’, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Nov 20 2021-Jan 8 2022. Support the Theatre Royal here.
Missing the stage? The Bridge is planning to put on live productions again this September.