A temporary purpose-built theatre is taking shape ahead of opening night for its annual pantomime.
The new Orchard West is being constructed in Hythe Street, Dartford, after the town’s Orchard Theatre had to close in September following the discovery of potentially-dangerous reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in the roof.
Today, EastEnders star Shona McGarty and her Beauty and the Beast co-stars launched the Orchard’s pantomime at The Manor Gatehouse in Dartford – just minutes from the new venue.
Theatre director Tal Rosen said the “state-of-the-art” temporary replacement is on track to be completed in time for opening night.
“It is made up of six structures and we are just waiting for the last one to be lowered in,” he said. “Then it will be made watertight and they can start work on the inside.”
The theatre, which will actually seat 190 more people than the Orchard, will be decked out in Christmas lights as it prepares to welcome audiences on December 9.
Mr Rosen said: “The show must go on. We’ve been through Covid and now this, but we will always continue and the show will always go on.”
And he promises the production will be just as amazing as if it were being shown at the traditional venue around the corner in Home Gardens.
He added: “It’s going to be spectacular. It’s the same size space as the Orchard. It’s going to have a vibrant set, and state-of-the-art lighting and sound equipment.”
Talking about the speed in which the theatre has been erected following the announcement the Orchard would be closed for a year, he said: “It really is a Christmas miracle.”
Shona, who plays EastEnders’ Whitney Dean, was joined by Britain’s Got Talent finalist John Archer, Gravesend born actor and former EastEnders star Harry Reid and panto stalwarts Emma Jay Thomas and Tom Senior to launch the pantomime.
She said her Eastenders co-stars have been offering tips as the role of Belle marks Shona’s first pantomime.
“They told me not to push my voice too much as there are a lot of shows and you have to take it easy,” she said. “But I want to really give it my all.”
She also admitted she is super nervous at making her panto debut but is grateful the cast has two weeks of rehearsals.
“We only have half an hour on EastEnders, so two weeks is great,” she said.
Former EastEnder Harry Reid, who went to school at Northfleet Technology College in Gravesend, said he was looking forward to performing close to home.
“I was actually gutted when I heard the show wouldn’t be at The Orchard as I’ve never performed there, but I’m also really excited to be appearing in the first show at Orchard West.”
However, he admitted he is slightly worried about the audience.
‘”Some of my friends are coming along so that will make me even more nervous,” he said. “And I’m slightly concerned they might draw a moustache on one of the posters of me.”
Magician John Archer, who was a semi-finalist in the 2019 series of Britain’s Got Talent, is promising his own Christmas magic: “There will definitely be lots of magic. I might even be playing the ukulele.”
Beauty and the Beast opens on December 9 and runs until December 31.
The pantomime stars were also due to switch on the lights in Dartford town centre today.