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A question mark is hanging over pantomimes across Kent this Christmas

A question mark is hanging over pantomimes across the county, as the arts world calls for government support for an industry unable to function under current government restrictions.

Performers took to Twitter using #SaveTheArts calling for financial support as live performances are still not allowed, to which the Goverment responded by announcing £1.57bn of help.

Seats are still empty at theatres across Kent Picture by: Martin Apps
Seats are still empty at theatres across Kent Picture by: Martin Apps

Last week Norwich Theatre Royal became one of the first to call off its pantomime while venues in Buxton and Welwyn Garden City have also cancelled.

Across Kent, theatres are shut, with pantomimes - rehearsals for which would start in late October or early November, less than four months' time - waiting in the wings for news.

But most are remaining optimistic about pantomime season, despite being closed since March.

Martin Cleverley, general manager at the Hazlitt Theatre in Maidstone, which is due to stage Jack and the Beanstalk from Saturday, November 28 to Wednesday, December 31, said: "The Hazlitt Theatre remains closed and will do until such time that we can reopen safely with regards to our customers, staff and performers.

Beauty and the Beast at the Hazlitt Theatre last year
Beauty and the Beast at the Hazlitt Theatre last year

"The decision on whether the annual pantomime taking place this year is an ongoing one as we explore all options open to us at the same time ensuring that if we do stage a production it can be done without financial risk. There remains the desire to stage a pantomime and we have been working in the background on the production elements that we have been able to but all the while more time slips by and we cannot get back into the venue and get staff back and working it becomes a much more difficult task. "

At the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, which is due to stage Jack and the Beanstalk from Friday, November 27 to Sunday, January 10 with Evolution Productions, managers are remaining upbeat.

A spokesman said: "We all need something to look forward to at the moment. These are challenging times for theatre makers, but together with our Kent-based co-producer, Evolution Productions, we are doing all we can to bring Jack And The Beanstalk to The Marlowe this Christmas.

"Should our plans change, we’ll let our audiences know as soon as possible."

The Marlowe's Chris Wong, Ben Roddy and Lloyd Hollett in Mother Goose last year Picture: Pamela Raith Photography
The Marlowe's Chris Wong, Ben Roddy and Lloyd Hollett in Mother Goose last year Picture: Pamela Raith Photography

Evolution Productions is also due for the first time to produce the pantomime for the Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Qdos Pantomimes produce the productions for both the Orchard Theatre in Dartford and the Churchill Theatre, Bromley.

At Dartford this year veteran star Christopher Biggins is due to lead the cast of Jack and the Beanstalk, while at the Churchill Theatre the show will be Sleeping Beauty.

Christopher Biggins is expected to star in this year's pantomime at the Dartford Orchard Theatre
Christopher Biggins is expected to star in this year's pantomime at the Dartford Orchard Theatre

A spokesman for Qdos said: "We’re eagerly awaiting further information from the government to enable theatres to plan to reopen safely, allowing us all to live happily ever after, without having to resort to the use of magic beans.

“Qdos Pantomimes are currently keeping plans under review, considering it too early to make further decisions about Christmas while plans to reopen theatres are yet to be worked through.”

Listen to our Podcast on the future of pantomimes and the arts in Kent here.

At the EM Forster Theatre in Tonbridge, managers were also upbeat. Theatre manager Kat Portman Smith said: We are still hopeful of being able to stage a full pantomime but also have other ideas up our sleeve for an alternative version. We are in the lucky position that we can operate with social distancing in place so we are all set up for when he government gives the go ahead for live performance."

A spokesman for the Woodville at Gravesend, which is due to stage Aladdin, said no decisions had yet been made. The venue is set to open the Paul Greengrass Cinema on Monday, July 13. The Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells also said no decisions had been made.

As part of the #SaveTheArts campaign on Twitter yesterday, Dame Judi Dench said: "The arts are not a luxury, they are a necessity."

The pantos that should be going ahead across Kent this winter.

The latest National Theatre At Home line-up


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