Published: 10:29, 27 July 2020
| Updated: 12:42, 27 July 2020
Tunbridge Wells' panto is off this Christmas.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was set to open in December at the Assembly Hall Theatre with award-winning Evolution Productions at the helm, but now won't go ahead until 2021.
The decision to postpone the performance was taken after assessing the options for social distancing within the auditorium as well as backstage at the venue.
Theatre director JJ Almond said: "This was an incredibly hard decision to take.
"Panto is a very important part of our programme and we always look forward to seeing people fill the theatre ready to enjoy a fun, festive performance.
"But as time has gone on it has become very clear that the audience experience would suffer if we staged a production with the level of social distancing necessary to be safe.
"Directing the panto is something that I really enjoy so this decision is hard for me personally too.
"Panto is a shared experience between the performers and the audience that just won’t be available in a socially-distanced setting.
"What I am sure of is that in 2021 Snow White will find her prince and our audience will be there to see it."
Producer Paul Hendy for Evolution Productions said he was heartbroken the show has been postponed. This would have been the company's first year staging a pantomime at the Assembly Hall Theatre.
Mr Hendy said: "We were really looking forward to working with JJ and the wonderful team at the Assembly Hall on this year’s pantomime, Snow White.
"Although the postponement of the production is heartbreaking, we understand and totally agree with this decision.
"Will pantomime return?… ‘oh yes it will!"
Borough council cabinet member Cllr Jane March said the safety of the audience and cast was the main consideration over the cancellation.
She added: "The safety of the cast and audience has to be our main consideration, and this puts financial pressure on the theatre so sadly it is not viable to continue with panto this year.
"Although there will be no panto I am pleased to say that the spirit of Christmas will be very much in evidence in Royal Tunbridge Wells as the popular ice rink will return to Calverley Grounds."
The council announced today that an ice rink in the town will be open from November 14, for the Christmas season.
The Assembley Hall, which is owned by the council, closed its doors in line with government guidance on March 17 and it is not expect to reopen until April next year. Staff are currently furloughed.
Explaining this decision Cllr March said: "The challenge for the council, is to strike the balance between generating income from available capacity, and staff, public and performer safety in the context of audiences feeling that attendance is not safe.
"In many cases the losses will be lower if a venue remains closed; as with reduced capacity and social distancing the costs to generate income, outweigh the income that can be achieved.
"It is a dilemma reflected across the industry. We have decided to remain closed until April but we will be regularly reviewing that decision."
Evolution Productions also stage the Marlowe Theatre panto which is the biggest in the county.
It's future hangs in the balance with a crunch decision expected next month on whether to press ahead with the show.
'The postponement of the production is heartbreaking...'
Producers of the money-spinner at the theatre in Canterbury say they are weighing up the financial risks of staging the popular production in the wake of continuing restrictions.
Going ahead with the panto - which attracts up to 100,000 people throughout its run - could leave the theatre and firm behind it massively out of pocket should another wave spark a second lockdown.
Those who had booked tickets to see the panto at the Assembley Hall will have their refund processed automatically. The first performance was set to take place on December 11.
The theatre will also be writing to each person who has made a booking, offering them a free family ticket for the ice rink in Calverley Grounds.