Whilst theatres across the country remain closed, panto is still alive and well thanks to a number of online initiatives.
If lockdown means we can’t visit the theatre, then your front room can be transported to the wonderful world of pantomime thanks to Middle Child’s DIY Panto kit. Downloadable from its web site, the Hull-based company has released the script to its 2019 panto The Little Mermaid and included lots of helpful production material such as a playlist for musical numbers and a guide to all the show’s characters.
Through its Panto @ Home campaign, Watford Palace Theatre is also encouraging creativity through a series of YouTube videos that take viewers through the steps to produce their own festive show.
If a little inspiration is needed, YouTube has become the home for panto online with the Towngate Theatre in Basildon, Harrogate Theatre, Courtyard Theatre in Hereford, Tom Rolfe Productions, Harlow Playhouse and Mercury Theatre in Colchester all streaming their recent pantomimes over the past few months. At the time of writing, the New Theatre Royal Lincoln currently has its 2019 Easter pantomime The Wizard of Oz and 2019 Christmas pantomime Robin Hood available via YouTube with the Roses Theatre, Tewksbury offering Sleeping Beauty, Dick Whittington and Aladdin. You can also see the dress rehearsal of Panto-mania! celebrating 50 years of Telford pantos at the Oakengate Theatre in 2018 courtesy of Mr Millerman Presents.
These archival recordings allow us to revisit pantos of the past, but St Helens Theatre Royal has turned the current situation into an opportunity with Rapunzel, the world’s first social media lockdown panto. Featuring timely characters such as the evil Quarantina and a narrative that revolves around an imprisoned Princess, the final production is a result of clever editing after each performer filmed their dialogue separately in isolation.
Theatres have also been putting video messaging to good use by conducting auditions online. Using hashtag #SearchforCinders, producers at Blackpool’s Opera House encouraged performers to share their audition tapes via social media with The Theatre, Chipping Norton embracing a virtual open casting call for its 2020 pantomime Rapunzel and receiving over 1,000 self-tapes. Most recently, the Garrick Theatre, Lichfield has reached out to encourage young people to audition for Peter Pan with a self-tape video and learning a dance routine (deadline: 7 June).
Adversity often stimulates creativity, so it’s been no surprise to see a range of comic videos pop up imagining how Pantoland might react to COVID-19. The Society of London Theatre and Acting for Others’ rendition of the Twelve Days of Lockdown, parodying the slapstick panto staple ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, features a whole host of famous faces including Christopher Biggins, Sharon D Clarke and Sooty, not forgetting the—now in great demand—famous Five Toilet Rolls chorus courtesy of Lesley Joseph. Lythgoe Family Productions has also released a humorous take on our favourite pantomime characters coping with lockdown called Fairytales in Quarantine and a rendition of "Sweet Caroline" with new sing-a-long lyrics entitled "Sweet Quarantine".
Over on Twitter, you can find Dame Dolly (aka @phylipharries) share a weekly exercise for the mind and body with Dave Short (@DaveShort100) challenging Dames across the country to a make-up brush challenge and launching a series of panto Dame monologues kicking off with Widow Twankey.
For the younger viewer, @BlackpoolPanto has a series of stories read by cast members including Shirley Ballas whilst over on Facebook Live, Robert Pearce aka panto Dame Mama G brings a whole host of children’s stories to life via Mama G’s Storytime.
There are also lots of pantomime related activities online to keep the little ‘uns busy. It’s-Behind-You.com’s Kids Zone is a great destination for all things panto with the site’s YouTube page featuring full productions of Cinderella, documentaries, interviews, songs and glimpses of pantomime memorabilia all courtesy of Nigel Ellacott. For colouring-in, crosswords, design-a-Dame dress and even the opportunity to craft your own panto cow, Celebrate Panto’s downloads page has plenty to keep family members occupied.
The Panto Podcast, Panto Advice Page and Celebrate Panto’s Docu-Features all offer great insights into the history and practice of contemporary pantomime, and of course the British Theatre Guide’s very own podcast features a range of interviews with leading practitioners and performers.
Whoever said panto’s just for Christmas?