It’s a Pantomime – O yes it is!

THE Great Pandemic of 2020 has revealed some fascinating aspects of our characters. People we might have thought were brave and careless have shown themselves to be fearful and hermetic. Some have bragged and blustered their way through ignorance, some have faced the very worst with immediate capitulation and some have kept their own cautious counsel.

In this frightening new world, no one should expect any government, any “expert”, to have got it right, from the start, in all the potential situations that Covid-19 affects.

But among the criticisms of unclear and constantly changing messages and policies, the UK world of live entertainment has had it particularly badly from a government whose departments seem to lack depth, experience, understanding and vision in the areas it is their responsibility to administer.

If the general public thinks that it’s collective common sense is in direct conflict to the diktats of the PM, it won’t listen.  How many people you know DON’T think that Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle was the turning point?

A lot of my working life has been spent writing about the performing arts – professional and amateur theatre, music, dance, comedy etc.   Most of the practitioners depend on indoor venues in which to strut their stuff for audiences, and most venue owners have bemoaned their fate and set about finding ways to make their places as safe as possible for audiences and performers, and so to open their doors again.

Some have folded (and were probably on the brink of collapse before the virus).  Some have announced no performances of any sort until at least 2021.   Some have tentatively made plans for socially-distanced, hand sanitised, no interval, one-way-in-and-one-way-out shows in the pre-Christmas period. Some have opened with re-configured auditoria and socially-bubbled companies of performers.

Some have done the above only to discover they had mis-interpreted Government guidelines.

Amateur companies performing in professional venues have rehearsed and prepared, only to hear at the very last minute that they couldn’t go ahead indoors – pity the excellent Frome company caught in this situation.  The properly distanced Merlin audience is apparently safe watching film, or seeing professional shows, but not those performed by unpaid actors. I think the phrase is Go Figure.

For theatre managements, the question is complex.  There are three main priorities – bringing live performances to audiences, allowing performers to perform, and in the background the need to make money to maintain not only staff but often expensive and old buildings in a safe and welcoming condition so they can fulfil their other priorities.

It looks as though pantomime – that traditional British Christmas entertainment – will have to go by the board in its usual format this year.  It’s easy to see why. It’s all about participation, vocal and sometimes physical connection between performers and audience, lots of physical comedy on stage and excited children in the audience.  Just not possible this year, is it?

In the last few days, Bath Theatre Royal has announced that the planned panto is postponed until 2021, replaced this Christmas by the hilarious The Play that Goes Wrong.

Yeovil Octagon will be putting on a pop-up pantomime, Nurse Nellie saves Panto, specially written for three of the best loved and most talented pantomime performers and including, in its 70 minute running time, a selection of the gags and routines without which Christmas-on-stage would not be complete.

We might think that the shenanigans in Downing Street would be enough of a pantomime to satisfy the appetite, but I for one am waiting in eager anticipation to hear the sound of distanced audiences shouting “behind you” through their masks and young children getting at least a taste of the delights in store when Covid-19 is a painful but salutary memory and really is “behind you.”   Oh Yes I  Am!