Panto News: March 2014

Reporter: Simon Sladen

Dateline: 29th March, 2014

Easter Panto Season 2014

With British summer time officially here, it might seem odd to be hailing panto season just around the corner again. Over the past three years, the Easter pantomime industry has grown and grown, with this year a total of eleven Easter pantomimes taking place in 37 theatres up and down the country.

2014 will see seven titles produced by eleven production companies. Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz are this year's most popular in terms of number of performances, followed by Alice in Wonderland and Hansel and Gretel. What is interesting about these titles and sets them apart from their Christmas counterparts is that adventure, not romance drives the plot, each of which is episodic in nature.

Easter pantomimes are nothing new in themselves; however, the Easter pantomime industry is. With the Easter school holidays another opportunity for scheduling a family friendly show, theatres are now actively looking to programme a pantomime and so we see the birth of possibly a revived theatrical tradition. With tickets often starting at around £10.00, a trip to the theatre is an exciting addition to the holiday routine and one which we will no doubt see more of in Easter seasons yet to come.

Just like the Christmas season, celebrity still reigns in the commercial sector and one thing that sets the Easter season apart from its Christmas counterpart is that, as of yet, no theatres produce their Easter productions in-house. The reasons for this are simple—the Easter school vacation period is short, no tradition yet exists and, given current recent cuts to funding, it would be difficult for already stretched subsidised theatres to match their Christmas offering in terms of spectacle.

Therefore the industry works on a predominantly production company, tour-led model to ensure a sell-out at a venue over a few days and to have a greater opportunity at recouping any financial outlay. In the instances of Peter Pan and Snow White, for example, existing Christmas script, set and costume stock can be used, thus decreasing budgets should the company own such material or increasing revenue to the country's many prop, costume and set stores.

A survey of this year's offerings reveals Easter pantomimes are much more child-orientated than those to be found later in the year, with children's television presenters and personalities often headlining. Enchanted Entertainment's Peter Pan boasts Tracey Beakers' Dani Harmer as Wendy and Art Attack's Lloyd Warbey as Pan, with Shone Production Ltd's Wizard of Oz casting CITV's Anna Williamson as Dorothy and CBBC's Jez Edwards as the Scarecrow.

Jessica Hathaway of Channel 5's Milkshake Live Tour appears in LP Creatives' Hansel and Gretel, whilst Trio Entertainment has secured the talents of Hi5's Chris Edgerley (Tin Man), SClub7's Tina Barrett (Wicked Witch) and EastEnders' Melissa Suffield (Dorothy) for their production which will also enjoy a revival in May.

Suffield has worked for Trio Entertainment before and indeed all of the Easter season's star names have appeared in past pantomime seasons, vital given the short rehearsal time. For Magic Beans Pantomimes, their cast is made up of regulars Robert Pearce, Jasette Amos and Ant Payne, as well as company new face Britain's Got Talent's Steve Hewlett and panto regulars Debbie McGee and Paul Daniels.

This marks a new production for Magic Beans, and with two Dames (Pearce as the Cook and Leon Craig as Queen of Hearts), Alice in Wonderland continues the lineage of the title as a pantomime which dates back to 1886 when John Addison's Alice in Wonderland, or, Harlequin, the poor apprentice, the pretty belle, and the fairy ring was presented at the Royal Artillery Theatre.

No female Principal Boy is to be found in any Easter pantomime, and indeed they are a rare species, only to be seen in DK Productions' and Regal Entertainments' Snow White, LHK Productions' Aladdin and Dame for a Laugh's Sleeping Beauty. With girl power at the heart of the Easter season, it will be interesting to see whether more male-led narratives join the canon in 2015.

This year the Easter pantomime season kicks off on 2 April in Edmonton with The Little Mermaid at the Dugdale Centre and ends on 27 April with Peter Pan at the Central Theatre, Chatham. Then it's only a few months before Summer Panto Season commences and press launches begin for the Christmas season.

For further information on this year's Easter pantomimes, visit the National Database of Pantomime Performance, which is also starting to list information about this year's Christmas productions too.

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