For theatre... online, non-professional, amateur


Lockdown vs Panto Special

This lockdown isn’t getting any easier is it! In fact if you chuck homeschooling into the mix we’re pretty sure it’s getting more difficult by the day. What’s more, in another month or so, we’ll have all been suffering the ravages of the dreadful Coronavirus pandemic for almost a year. That will be a year since any of us put on a real live play. And don’t we all miss it. Plus, hands up who’s getting a little bit fed up with Zoom?

Anyway, here we are again. Welcome to our third online-only issue – no.51. If you’re reading this you must have digital access to the magazine’s subscription portal.

You may have noticed that despite the entire 2020-2021 pantomime season being wiped out, we have still managed – somehow – to put together our regular Panto Special. However, there might not be quite as much advice as usual but we have brought you a lovely cover story in the form of our interview with ex-Blue Peter presenter, Peter Duncan, who may well be the last man standing in the pantomime world at present. Peter has produced a purpose-made online pantomime of Jack and the Beanstalk where he also plays none other than Dame Trott. The most bizarre aspect of the pantomime may be the fact that the entire film was shot on location in Peter’s own back garden.

The Panto Special does feature several other highly entertaining articles from regular compilers, Cheryl Barrett and Bob Heather.

Perhaps the most interesting for many of you will be our update on getting the performing rights released for Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls: the Musical. Just as we uploaded the first of two videos to the Sardines YouTube channel, Yorkshire’s Grassington Players announced the amateur premiere of the show which is due to take place in September.

Sardines has since received a further update from Yorkshire saying how the originally planned 2020 date for the amateur premiere had to be put back due to Covid-19. This might suggest that Grassington Players have been negotiating for some time with rights holder Concord Theatricals and it was indeed our YouTube post which prompted the hastily-put-together announcement. Either way it’s looking good for the general release of the rights to other amateur societies. So let’s try and break those licensing records all over again.

The other important interview in this issue is with Jersey’s Georgi Mottram, the classical crossover soprano. Georgi suffered from acute anxiety every time she was about to perform around the world. However, thanks to a revolutionary remedy courtesy of Breathwork, Georgi’s anxiety has now completely gone. The singer shares her story with us in the interview.
The relevance of this is in case any of you performers out there might also be suffering after such a long layoff.

Stay safe, stay well, we will be back.


Paul & Fariba

PANTO SPECIAL 2021Pantomime Playwrights

Pantomime Playwrights

Above: Chichester Festival Youth Theatre – The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Adapted by John Kane. Music & Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. Photo: Helen Murray

Stuart Ardern – |
Stuart is the fiendish mastermind behind Lazy Bee Scripts.
In addition to the full-length pantomimes (in prose), frequently with original songs, he writes short pantomimes (generally in rhyming tetrameters), and occasional bespoke pantomimes (for wealthy corporations). He also writes one-act plays, sketches and occasional youth theatre pieces.
His recent pantomimes include Jack and the Beanstalk (A Deadpan Panto) (suitable for a Zoom! reading) and the rhyming, satirical 2020 Pied Piper.

Cheryl Barrett –
A prolific writer, Cheryl has over a hundred published scripts, including pantomimes, full-length and one-act plays, monologues, comedy sketches and plays for schools. Cheryl has been a regular contributor to Sardines Magazine’s Panto Special since its inception in 2014. She is published with Lazy Bee Scripts, Smith Scripts and Spotlight Publications. Cheryl loves theatre, especially pantomime and has written, directed and acted in many productions over the years. Cheryl recently facilitated an online panto writing workshop for Cornwall Theatre Association Theatre Day.

Paul Barron –
Paul began writing pantomimes around eight years ago and, to date, has written five full-length scripts. Two of them, A Long Time Ago (Aladdin in space) and Drac and the Beanstalk (Jack and the Beanstalk with vampires) are based on traditional stories but the other three, Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After and The Good, The Bad and The Panto are original. Paul regularly directs his own scripts and plays dame with his local amateur theatre group.

James Barry –
James Barry writes and directs professional pantomimes (and other things), notably for the Princes Hall Theatre in Aldershot and the Winchester Theatre Royal (where his most recent show got a five-star review in The Stage). His pantomimes (and a few other shows) are available to amateur groups through Lazy Bee Scripts.

Peter Bond –
Peter Bond has written four full-length pantomimes: Cinderella, Old King Cole, The Magic Tinderbox and, with Bob Heather, The King’s New Clothes. He has also written three one-act pantos: Mr Scrooge, Jack and the Beantin, Budget Cinderella as well as eleven ten-minute rhyming pantos. These are mostly published by Lazy Bee Scripts. e retired as a teacher several years ago in order to devote more time to writing.

Bradford & Webster –
Toby Bradford & Tina Webster have written eleven pantomimes: Rapunzel, Treasure Island, Robin Hood, Sinbad, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Dick Whittington, Jack and the Beanstalk, Sleeping Beauty and The Prince’s Quest.
Productions of Bradford & Webster pantomimes have won awards at both local and Noda regional level. Reviews: ‘high-octane romp’, ‘packed with originality’, ‘laugh-a-minute’, ‘brilliantly funny’, ‘beautifully written’, ‘a warm, sparky, engagingly daft romp’, ‘full of surprises’, ‘good, old-fashioned panto’.

Dave Buchanan –
Dave lives and works in the Kingdom of Fife and has written, produced and acted in pantomimes for forty years.
He is the proprietor of Spotlight Publications, which employs over 50 writers, and has published 170 pantos, 22 of which are Dave’s own. His latest offering is a series of four mini-pantos in verse: Aladdin, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.

Leonard Caddy –
Leonard Caddy has written a host of successful scripts performed all over the country and abroad. His style faithfully follows traditional stories full of comedy situations, panto essentials and introduces new and original characters and intriguing sub-plots. Having made his first appearance at the back end of a mule, his lifetime of involvement means he understands panto from the bottom up. He’s played good, bad, slick and sloppy parts and established a solid reputation as a dame.

Ben Crocker –
Ben Crocker specialises in providing traditional pantomime scripts with a modern feel. Written in short snappy sentences, Ben’s scripts are very popular, funny and actor-friendly. They are designed to appeal to all ages and free PDF reading copies are available via his website. Along with immaculate writing and craftsmanship, Ben is very relaxed about permitting companies to make changes. With nearly three hundred productions in seventeen countries this year, he is definitely getting something right!

Peter Denyer –
Peter, who died in 2009, was an accomplished actor with many stage and TV credits. He wrote his first panto in the mid-70s, since when, he followed a dual career as actor and writer. His scripts combine strong storylines and traditional comedy. In 1998 Peter adapted his portfolio for NODA members. These revised editions have clear stage directions, detailed notes on incidental music and song suggestions, casting tips, and a breakdown of requirements for scenery, costumes and props.

Chris Denys & Chris Harris –
Co-writers Chris Denys (Late principal of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School) and Chris Harris, who passed away in 2014, wrote nine pantomimes for Bristol Old Vic. These pantos are now published and available for hire, they include: Aladdin, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Mother Goose, Dick Whittington and Babes in the Wood.

Stephen Duckham –
Stephen has been involved with both professional and amateur pantos for over thirty years, having directed every major title. He turned to writing in the early 90s and his work has been performed in the West End and USA. Scripts include full production notes and can be performed simply or lavishly, depending on facilities. Both traditional and modern sequences are found throughout each pantomime with a large amount of audience participation.

Alan P Frayn –
Alan is one of today’s most popular pantomime writers, with well over two hundred productions choosing one of his scripts again this season. Whilst traditional in style, his pantomimes are aimed firmly at present day audiences, being packed with hilarious up-to-date comedy, original, fast-moving, flexible and are also revised and updated annually.
All available from Stage Right Creative, visit the above website for full details of Alan’s twenty scripts, plus photos and reviews from previous productions.

Richard Gauntlett –
Richard has been writing pantomime scripts for over twenty-five years and has had over one hundred professional productions performed. Richard has been resident Dame, writer and director at The Theatre Royal in Norwich for nineteen years and will next year achieve over one thousand performances in the same venue! His scripts are very popular with amateur societies blending the tradition of old routines with the Twenty-First Century kick he has become known for!

Ron Hall –
Ron Hall has been involved with the world of amateur panto for over twenty-five years. Familiar with limited facilities, small stages and little cast experience, his scripts ensure his pantomimes are easy to perform, fun and box-office successes. NODA has a choice of sixteen pantomimes by Ron Hall. Scripts contains suggested song titles and a properties list.

Bob Heather –
Bob has written and co-written over two dozen traditional family pantos, all published by Lazy-Bee Scripts. They contain lighting cues, props lists and notes etc. and are regularly up-dated. He has directed many pantomimes, and gives pantomime talks and workshops.
Bob is co-author of two books for pantomime writers, and has a panto cow and various other pantomime animals for hire, along with a selection of props, including a growing beanstalk.

Bob Heather & Cheryl Barrett – |
Bob Heather and Cheryl Barrett have written eleven pantomimes together. Their scripts are traditional family pantomimes, as well as pantos with a modern twist, like Sheer Luck Holmes. All are suitable for amateur and professional companies. Bob and Cheryl’s scripts contain lighting cues, props lists, author’s notes, technical notes and suggested songs. They have written two books; Pantomime Writers Book of Gags and Routines and More Gags and Routines For Pantomime Writers.

Nigel Holmes –
Nigel’s modern pantomime scripts have been used for professional seasons at venues such as the huge SSE Arena and in London’s West End, plus by a plethora of amateur groups across the UK and worldwide. Dubai, Kuwait, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and America. His scripts are lively and relevant to today’s audiences and are constantly being updated.

Emma Houldershaw & Samantha Cartwright –
Emma and Samantha act, choreograph, write, produce and direct for a drama group called The Warren. They have been involved with panto for over 25 years and have The Wizard of Oz Pantomime, Peter Pan the Pantomime, Rapunzel, The Snow Queen, and Beauty and the Beast published with Spotlight Publications. Emma attended Sylvia Young Theatre School and has a diploma in Acting from LAMDA. Samantha reviews for Sardines and has written several musical shows.

Alex Jackson –
I write my scripts to be funny, family-friendly and flexible enough to be produced on any budget from shoestring to spectacular. I’m passionate about panto and aim for my scripts entertain you and make you laugh in equal measure.
Plus, I’m always on-hand to offer the benefit of my experience and to help make any edits to the script which will make your production more personal.
My Covid Guarantee means that you can book a licence for the script and change the dates of your production licence at any time with no extra charges.

Richard Lamming: Pantomime Songs Limited –
Richard writes songs and scores for musicals, including pantomimes: digitally orchestrated backing tracks, vocal demos and sheet music. He believes pantomimes and musicals should have specially written songs, fitting the story, told by the characters – not just well-known pop songs. His catalogue includes many genres. He can also rework lyrics, tempi and length to suit specific characters.

Limelight Scripts –
Limelight Scripts are UK publishers and rightsholders of quality pantomime scripts. They offer traditional titles such as Cinderella, Aladdin, Dick Whittington, etc. As well as more modern titles, such as Merlin and Rapunzel. All scripts are updated on an annual basis to keep them fresh and relevant. Limelight have recently updated their website, which now offers secure browsing and purchasing. If you have any questions or queries, please get in touch with Jackie or Dennis.

Mark Llewellin –
It was as a member of Wotton Dramatics Society that Mark discovered his love of theatre, particularly pantomime. He was MD at Oldham Coliseum Theatre for almost a decade, working with people like Les Dennis and Ken Dodd. He now runs his own PR company. Mark has also had the pleasure of co-writing a number pantomimes with Roy Barraclough MBE (who died in 2017) and John Jardine.

Marsden & Rundle –
Keith Marsden and Geoffrey Rundle hail from Yorkshire and have over fifty years’ panto experience, writing their first script, Dick Whittington, in 1944. Sadly Geoffrey has passed away but his magical touch lives on in their panto catalogue. Marsden and Rundle appeared on stage together until 1988 with Keith playing the comic and Geoffrey playing the dame. Their valuable experience is reflected in their scripts.

Philip Meeks –
In 2019 Philip celebrated his decade as a pantomime dame becoming one of the most in-demand dames in the UK appearing with, among others, Su Pollard, Janine Duvitski, Mark Little and Linda Lusardi. He has written pantomimes professionally for twenty years and his scripts have been performed around the world. His pantos are traditional with a modern twist, featuring plenty of roles (always strong roles for women) and some refreshing takes on the well-loved stories.

John Morley –
Apart from writing the longest running pantomime ever (Nottingham Theatre Royal, 1981), John has written almost two hundred professional pantos, with a production of Cinderella performed at the London Palladium. The Morley pantos that NODA provides have been revised for amateur productions, with almost no scenery or costume changes, but with ample work for small parts and the chorus.

Robert Pearce –
Robert is a popular pantomime dame, playing the role for over ten years with some of Britain’s favourite performers. His panto scripts have been performed by amateur companies around the world. They can be bought directly, off-the-shelf or tailored to suit your needs. He has written and directed for Haven Holidays’ summer panto touring teams and his work has been produced professionally across the UK.

Luke Reilly –
Luke is a young writer from Merseyside, whose scripts are for gutsy theatre groups keen to take pantomime into the Twenty-First Century. While he retains old panto traditions, Luke adds his own modem twist and fresh approach to the age-old plots and characters. Though he gives the audience exactly what they expect from a panto, he provides it in an unexpected and amusing fashion.

Long & Rawnsley –
Peter Long and Keith Rawnsley are a famous comedy-writing duo with an impressive list of credits including Week Ending, The News Huddlines and The Two Ronnies, plus an association with producer John Lloyd that also took in Not The Nine O’Clock News and Spitting Image. With a long tradition in comic writing, Keith and Peter have made the eagerly awaited addition of pantomimes to their repertoire.

Norman Robbins – |
Norman, who passed away in 2016, is one of amateur theatre’s most popular authors. He wrote his first stage show almost sixty years ago and, in his mid-20s, made his professional debut appearing in pantomime with Ken Dodd. He has lectured on the genre’s history, published a book on the evolution of pantomime (with the title Slapstick and Sausages) and was in constant demand as an after-dinner speaker.

Reece Sibbald –
Pantomime Specialist for over 20 years. Professional producer, seasoned performer and veteran writer of over 300 professional pantomimes, Reece’s work is now eagerly adapted for amateur release. Showcasing a diverse catalogue of titles alongside a bespoke tailor-made service, Sibbald’s caringly crafted scripts feed the needs and wants of the modern day audience. Fusing a fine blend of adventure with a mix of fail-safe jokes, plus a sprinkling of musical theatre and a flourish of panto magic; Reece Sibbald’s scripts are guaranteed to enchant all children young at heart. Affordable royalties for the most professional of productions.

David Swan –
Award-winning children’s writer, David Swan, creates scripts that have all the best elements of traditional pantomime. Plots are well structured and easily understood. Staging can be simple, using the minimum number of scene changes and requiring no expensive effects, yet can be as elaborate and spectacular as you wish. David’s panto-mimes also have comprehensive production notes.

TLC Creative –
TLC Creative have been writing together for nearly 20 years. With their pantomimes performed around the world, they offer over a dozen titles ranging from the traditional (e.g. Aladdin and Cinderella) to something a little different (e.g. Goldilocks, Knite Fever and Sinbad the Sailor).
TLC’s pantos are packed with gags, visual routines and plenty of audience participation. Between them, TLC have almost a century of writing, acting, directing and comedy experience. They also offer a range of downloadable panto themed extras – spoof adverts and kids fun sheets to enhance our production.

Colin Wakefield & Kate Edgar –
Colin Wakefield has written twenty pantomimes and family musicals with composer Kate Edgar. With Roger Leach he wrote On Your Honour and Audience With Murder, and the thriller Sleep No More with David Gillespie.
Kate Edgar has composed songs and music for over thirty pantos and stage musicals and was MD for the Olivier Award-winning Return to the Forbidden Planet. She is also a theatre director and teacher..

Tom Whalley Pantomimes –
The annual struggle to find the perfect pantomime script? It’s behind you!
Tom Whalley Pantomimes presents an ever-expanding collection of award-winning scripts by professional pantomime performer Tom Whalley – each marrying an age-old story with side-splitting comedy and a handful of hilarious modern twists to create the perfect pantomime script that your audiences will love.
Request a FREE perusal copy today.
★★★★★ “The fabulous script from Tom Whalley offers up a bevvy of laugh-out-loud moments.” The Evening Chronicle.
★★★★ “Vintage pantomime.” The Reviews Hub.

Peter Webster –
Peter has been a member of Faringdon Dramatic Society since 1988 and has now written eleven pantomimes, most of which are available from Josef Weinberger. All have premiered locally and three have won the Oxfordshire Drama Network Pantomime Competition. He has also written several one-act plays, one of which, Nighthawks, won the ODN One Act Play Competition.
Full details and synopses of all these can be found on Peter’s website.

PANTO SPECIAL 2021Peter Duncan – Hot to Trott

Peter Duncan – Hot to Trott

Jack and the Beanstalk | Peter Duncan as Dame Trott | Photo: Gordon Render

Peter Duncan, now in his mid-60s, will probably be forever known, by those of a certain age, as one of the 1980s Blue Peter presenters – in particular the John Noakes-style daredevil who cleaned the face of Big Ben without a safety harness (try doing that today!). Anybody who can’t remember the iconic show of the 80s might be scratching their heads trying to place the actor and presenter – that is unless you’re a big panto fan.

And I do mean ‘big’. In fact a cast of forty, plus a twelve-foot giant, plus an eco-friendly story, plus original songs and a real garden setting… all written by a clock cleaner (careful how you say that!).

Duncan has appeared in and written many pantomimes over the last thirty years. It’s a genre he’s very familiar with. “I grew up with panto,” he tells me over the phone (as is the way these days). “My father was a pantomime and summer season producer called Alan Gale and so I was steeped in the history of it from day one.” Not only that; he’s in no doubt as to the importance of pantomime across the country: “Especially after the year we’ve just had I realise how integral pantomime is to our culture and how people of all ages miss it when they can’t go.”

Can’t go is right. In fact the entire panto season for 2020, professional and amateur, has been completely wiped out thanks to a certain worldwide pandemic. That’s a lot of audiences, a lot of reality/ soap stars, a lot of fresh graduates in their first professional roles and a lot of money that hasn’t been spent this year. When Cameron Mackintosh closed the doors of his big four West End musicals (Phantom, Les Mis, Hamilton and Mary Poppins) back in 2020 until at least Easter 2021 people thought he was being a little overdramatic. Not so Mr Duncan; he also saw the writing on the wall very early.

“I didn’t share the opinion that it was a big surprise when it happened. Having studied what was going on around us, I had the opinion that it probably would be like this, and continue to be like this for some time. When it first kicked in this time last year straightaway I thought it would be good to do something else. I’m astounded by just how many theatre producers and owners said, ‘It’ll all be back to normal and it’ll all be over in three months.’ That never seemed to me to be the case which is why I did what I did.”

“And there is a kind of a strange status going on now where theatre producers are scared to produce anything because they’re worried that we might end up going into a deeper lockdown; or start rehearsing or employing people and then theatres won’t open,” discloses Peter. “Incidentally, it’s those theatres that have furloughed staff and are receiving some Arts Council money that can tick over while not producing anything. So it’s a very difficult place. What would be the point of opening up the West End anyway? There are no tourists or anybody to go to the shows. But I do think a hard rain is going to fall when the money stops. That recalibration may result in the industry bouncing back in a more healthy way. That’s what I think anyway. I’ve always had more actors than administrators; I’ve always very much taken more of an actor-manager role. You’re just not going to get much public confidence going on, even with the vaccine being rolled out as we speak. There’s a certain amount of doubt over its efficacy. Every day of every week there’s a different question being raised. That bounding confidence or returning to our previous lives isn’t going to happen anytime soon.”

The insightful actor, producer, writer, director, presenter, designer… (It’s a long list) told me of Jack and the Beanstalk’s early plans, way back in 2020: “I’ve had an idea for a ‘planet-saving’ panto in the locker-room for a while now. So I wrote a version which I knew I was going to film and, in the summer months we were very lucky to be in between [infection] waves. I had lots of ideas that came one after the other and I knew I wanted to work with a lot of people. I couldn’t go on a big audition spree which gave me the chance to work with many of the people I love be with… crew, technicals and actors. So surrounding myself with positive people was easy. I’d already had the idea to film in both mine and my neighbour’s gardens, which gives us huge scope, like a filming block really.”

“I was always doing this to go online only,” continues Peter not resisting the chance to take a swipe at the competition, “…which is what everybody is doing now after playing catch up for a while. Mind you most of them are streamed from theatres whereas we had always planned for this to go online and reach people through different mediums: Schools, Scouts… etc. What I hadn’t envisaged is for it to have a major film release.”

The ‘major film release’ Duncan is referring to is when Everyman Cinemas arrived on the scene and loved what they saw: “I have produced for the big screen before in the form of a bit of drama and travelogues,” recalls Duncan. “But it still meant I had to make some decisions for something that was always planned to be seen as a kind of live performance – there are live vocals only on the film for instance. I then needed something spectacular and I remembered that my neighbour has a kind of castle or folly in his garden.”

Pantomime on the big screen… what about the all-important atmosphere… the shouts, the boos, the cheers? “Everyman Cinemas subsequently became our co-producers. Then it was released all around the country – in those that were still allowed to open anyway. We did also have to upgrade some levels of what you do for a film release such as DCPs [Digital Cinema Packages]. It’s not a Hollywood blockbuster by any means but it was shot well and it works – especially the interactive parts. Everybody said that we couldn’t do a panto on film but for me that myth was busted when I sat at the back of a cinema and saw all the same things going on as with a live theatre show… shouting out, screaming at the action the lot.”

“There’s no doubt about it,” beams a triumphant Peter Duncan. “We took a chance to have a character look into the camera and expect a retort… and not fill the gap with lots of sound effects and noises. You have to participate when you watch it, even on your own. I think the experience of doing that came from performing panto and knowing the timings etc. and that goes for the good, bad and funny characters.”

“By the way, aspects from the production are all available for hire for anybody who wants to borrow them,” Dame Trott tells me, carving a beautiful link to amateur theatre. “Although you’ll have to pay.” Well we would expect nothing for free. Peter tells me about his mother’s days in am-dram: “My mother was a professional singer, and when she retired and came to live with us she joined the London Transport Players which, at that time, was one of the most established amateur companies. She did many shows with them and really enjoyed that. I remember when they did a big musical they would always have a full orchestra, which no commercial shows or pantomimes could ever afford. A lot of pros used to go and see the shows just to hear the music played as the composers had originally intended. She had a great second career with those amateurs and, generally, was complimentary about it; it was very slightly worse than the back-stabbing of the professional world, ha ha! She put up with it though and eventually made it on to the committee.”

“It’s absolutely correct that many of today’s professionals catch the performing bug with an amateur company,” Peter continues to enthuse. “Sometimes the pros tend to look down on it all without realising that this ‘hobby’ is actually a vocation. There aren’t that many hobbies left that people really enjoy. People are volunteering because they enjoy that association with young people and they’ll do it for nothing because it gives them enormous pleasure – it’s definitely that way with amateur theatre.”

It was hardly surprising that Peter ended up in the entertainment industry, but who would have thought he’d become a presenter on one of the most iconic and successful children’s television programmes of all time? “The Blue Peter thing was in front of a different audience to what I’d been used to at that time, much younger and with an iconic programme,” he says, casting his mind back some forty years. “The Blue Peter stint was a different shift and I didn’t really do panto until after those days really… even though it was always part of my make up.” I can tell that Peter would rather talk about the panto, although his heart does go out to the swathes of industry people who haven’t been as lucky: “It’s terrible for the freelancers in particular,” he ponders. “And I almost can’t imagine how difficult it is right now for younger people; it’s only the tenacious who will come through it. In the end the practicality of having to find something to do to earn money and put food on the table as well as paying for somewhere to live is going to become a priority… when the handouts stop.”

The word ‘tenacious’ reminds me of something Derek Jacobi once told me: “If you want to act, don’t bother, but if you have to act, do it!” Of course Peter has worked with Sir Derek. “Ha ha! Absolutely! One of my first jobs for Olivier’s company at The Old Vic was The White Devil,” says the name-dropping ex-Blue Peter presenter. “There was Derek Jacobi, Geraldine McEwan and loads of classic actors of the day. I’d come on as Prince Giovanni towards the end and condemn them all to death… so I’d quite enjoy that.”

Getting back to panto… and due to the current lockdown the cinema journey has ground to a halt. Not that it seems to be knocking our eternal optimist. “With the current lockdown it’s been stopped in its tracks a little, and we’re now purely online going into people’s homes. Hopefully things will calm down a little bit and cinemas might start to reopen, perhaps towards the end of March. It’ll be nice to have a second run but we just don’t know. The panto season is an odd thing now. The season is over and I can’t see any live productions going up now; the uncertainty is too great. That multi- generational audience include the most vulnerable in society. Are you going to come with your grandchildren? It’s a very difficult world to be in right now, particularly for pantomime.”

Well I’m not going to argue with the man who sees all, am I. “So I think we may be stuck with this online world for some time, but at least it does allow something to happen, and it’s been very well-received,” says Mr Duncan looking around for his soapbox. “We’ve had great reviews and lots of individual personal responses. There may come a point where it’s ok all of a sudden and then it’s how quickly people can respond and react. But again whether the audience will rush back into buildings is another thing. Every country is certainly different and we have no idea of the efficacy of the vaccine and we have no idea how things will develop. It’s such an unknown. And business people cannot bear indecision. How you can control something like this to fit your scenario – and you can’t. People say that they’re doing their best, but they’re often doing their best for what suits them.”

As well as his political views, Peter can’t resist one last swipe at some of the other so-called festive productions that have tried to compete within the pandemic. “There have been some terrible mistakes gone on; people recording overlong live Christmas shows, maybe at large institutions that shouldn’t be giving it away for free – I won’t mention any names but suffice to say there have been some spectacular mistakes. People who are not really panto practitioners, thinking they can knock it off… you might even know who I’m talking about.”

And we’re back to politics, not that Peter doesn’t make a valid point: “It’s extraordinary that the government hasn’t looked at it a bit better, let alone giving all the money to the big institutions. It’s the buildings again. They’ve forgotten that the lifeblood is the people, the creatives who make it all; that’s where it comes from. The Arts Council giving money to buildings and people who run buildings, for me, is not what it’s about.”

“If you want to be proactive and do something you have to make a choice, and one could make a good choice or a bad choice. But you have to be nimble, and I do feel sorry for theatre owners and councils because they are, like a lot of things in our society, moribund, stuck and over trafficked. Systems which don’t really work when you get into a situation like this. Generally, both in all forms of government and the way we behave as a society, there has to be a recalibration really and theatre’s just one of those things that will need to follow suit.”

Suddenly I wish I had a beanstalk in my back garden with bags of gold coins at the top.

To see Peter Duncan’s full-length pantomime of Jack and the Beanstalk, visit:

Panto in Ruins?

Panto in Ruins?

Above: Pantomime’s celebrated return to Croydon’s Fairfield Halls could be short-lived! Imagine Theatre’s spectacular 2019 production of Cinderella in the Fairfield Halls’ Phoenix Concert Hall was led by Strictly winner, Ore Oduba, and stand-up comedian, Tim Vine. Photo: Craig Sugden.

Way back in March, when lockdown was introduced, I don’t think anybody could have predicted that the approaching pantomime season would have been at risk.

At the time, and with eight months still to spare, it was probably pantomime organisers and producers who were breathing huge sighs of relief.

Not so anymore! Theatre closed instantly on Monday, 16th March after Boris ‘advised’ us all to avoid visiting social venues such as pubs, clubs or theatres but, as we face a possible second wave of Caronavirus, getting the performing arts restarted has been a different ball game altogether…

With the easing of lockdown restrictions seemingly slower than an EastEnders’ plotline, all of a sudden pantomimes across the country have been cancelling, postponing or refunding… and that’s not good! Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, pantomime is the biggest money-spinner of the year, often providing a financial crutch for the coming season’s smaller box office draws.

Traditionally, the glitz and glamour of the big-budget professional pantomimes takes place throughout December, usually finishing in early January. However, with Qdos Pantomimes announcing on 3 Aug that following the Government’s decision not to revisit the reopening of indoor theatrical performances until November at the earliest, 2020’s December panto season is as good as over.

Qdos is the world’s biggest panto producer and responsible for thirty-four of the glitziest shows in the UK as well as its celebrated London showpiece at the London Palladium. So when Qdos makes a decision, everybody else listens.

Sardines spoke with head of UK Productions, Martin Dodd, and Laura Taylor, Imagine Theatre’s Celebrity Casting & Production Consultant, in July prior to the big Qdos announcement. At the time, it seems the writing was already on the wall. “There are so many factors which will go into making the final decision,” Laura told me (Imagine produced fifteen pantos last year). “Everyone knows pantomime works because we do two shows a day with high-capacity audiences – and that’s how we make it work financially. At the moment, none of that is pointing in a good direction for us. If we overcame all of the health & safety hurdles that are there, are we going to get the level of audiences that we need? The other battle we’re facing is even if we overcame all of those hurdles and challenges – so the venues could reopen and there was no social distancing and the audience numbers would still come – we would still have the fear of a second spike and a cast member coming down with symptoms, which means we would have to stop the show while everyone self-isolates for two weeks… at the moment, for the producers, there is no insurance cover for that happening.”

Martin Dodd (UK Productions have ten pantos with links to thirty more) agreed with Laura’s opinion and emphasised the importance of eradicating social distancing entirely. “There’s a huge question-mark hanging over whether you can get the same audience levels as before, but obviously with social distancing we can’t; we know that with social distancing we can’t put shows on. But even when you lose social distancing you’ve still got the threat of further lockdowns, quarantine, self-isolation… and it’s not even restricted to the cast and crew. We saw it with the pubs where they were allowed to open and just two days later some of them were closing back down, because somebody had been in the pub who had tested positive for Covid-19. So they were closed for a week or two.”

Pantomimes, the size that UK Productions are used to delivering, can’t think about opening without packed audiences. “If this [self-isolating] applies to a panto we’re losing two shows a day, every day,” Martin points out. “And it’s not just the cast; it’s the whole production process that’s affected. With panto you’ve got such a short time to recoup your outlay. You only have about four and a half weeks to get your money back on basically staging a new musical production. So we can’t afford to lose entire days, let alone weeks.”

Laura mentions some of the other reasons why pantomime needs every seat filled. “The great thing about theatre, why people love it so much, is because it’s a collective experience. You’re there with hundreds, if not thousands, of other people who are all watching the same thing at the same time. To have 20% of your audience – especially for pantomime which is so interactive and needs a packed auditorium shouting at the stage – then it really doesn’t do the genre justice.”

Sardines also spoke with pantomime playwrights, Ben Crocker and Tom Whalley, who both rely on the amateur sector for a large portion of their annual licenses. Ben is well aware of the fine line between amateur and professional panto productions: “Both the amateur and professional sectors are definitely linked; but the amateur productions are not risking so much money. Obviously they DO risk money, but it’s a different financial equation. For a start they’re not paying a star what could be tens of thousands of pounds a week. Also, I think the amateur and the professional markets are differently driven. As mentioned, the amateurs can welcome far more risk, but perhaps in the same way that they’re always looking for different titles to perform. The big professional companies of course like to stick to the regular half a dozen titles. But whether you’re amateur or professional, panto is a vital part of the whole ecosystem, so they are all in the same boat on that front.”

Ben Crocker licensed three hundred productions last year, the vast majority of which were to amateurs. “As far as the amateur sector is concerned, it can be more flexible,” he told me, before suggesting that the amateur arena isn’t as confined as its professional counterparts. “I’m not in any way saying that it’s easy for amateurs; it’s very, very difficult. But every amateur society is different and, unlike the professionals they’re not stuck having to perform over Christmas. They can play later in the year, maybe look towards an Easter panto? If a vaccine IS becoming available around Christmas then the late-February-Easter option starts to look possible.”

Tom Whalley has spent lockdown getting back to his Geordie roots while living with his family back in Newcastle-upon-Tyne; a situation which the playwright was more than happy to put up with. Tom’s panto scripts are performed by both amateur and professionals all over the world. “The public feeling and confidence is very much influenced by the media I feel,” Tom told me in an understandably cynical tone. “A headline or comment from a broadcaster can easily start a mad panic for plain flour and loo rolls or paranoia about local lockdowns. Obviously optimism doesn’t sell as many newspapers or garner as many clicks online.”

Similar to our two producers, Tom also feels that social distancing is a non-starter for panto: “He’s (two metres) behind you!” is my fitting punishment for coming up with the idea of speaking with a panto writer. “As much as I think a ‘socially distanced’ pantomime horse would be a sight for sore eyes I can’t see it working, no. Any type of theatre will suffer the effects of social distancing. Pantomime needs to play to packed houses to make them viable: coach loads of excited kids; care homes popping in for a matinee; whole families coming together from around the world. With distancing measures in place, most theatres can only sell to 30% capacity and they simply cannot afford to run a show at a loss. Especially with the Olivier Award-winning production values that major pantomimes now boast – and many audience members have come to expect.”

Tom also refers to a potential vaccine but, whether that is wishful thinking to save this year’s season is another thing. “I hear down the grapevine that social distancing will be a thing of the past come November but with everything being so conditional, it’s impossible to prepare for panto like any other year. To anyone outside ‘the business’, discussions of Christmas this early always seems laughably premature though we know of course that preparations often begin long before the curtain has come down on last year’s show. Christmas without pantomime will be like Christmas without turkey to hundreds of thousands of families across the UK and the public outcry, I fear, will come too late.”

Laura Taylor explains more about the usual preparation time for one of Imagine’s regular seasonal shows. “Usually, we have a whole year of sales patterns. We normally go on sale for the following year as soon as we open a show and ANY blip in the road on your ticket sales will have a detrimental effect, so to have your whole marketing campaign and sales stopped for six months… we haven’t even been able to announce a star name!

“The usual production cycle is to work eighteen months ahead, so we already know what title and production will go where the year before. Then, as I say, we get all of the performance schedules and ticket prices signed off and ready to go on sale from the previous December. As soon as one panto season is done we go straight into casting and, in an ideal world, we like to get casting announced in February or March. Of course, all of that has had to be put on hold as well plus, behind the scenes, as well as the casting we’re arranging photo shoots, getting artwork designed and organising large school groups to come. So by May we normally have a substantial amount of money in the box office – and all of that has just stopped. We haven’t even been able to get into the stores or offices as we’ve all been working from home.”

Like Tom Whalley, Ben Crocker appears to be holding out for a vaccine to reinstate public confidence. He also reiterates the ability for amateur companies to boast a great deal of flexibility: “I think it’ll be a vaccine that will boost public confidence enough to bring people back into theatres. And I think the amateur market has enough flexibility to capitalise on that if one comes at the end of the year. But as I say, ‘who knows?’ Literally, nobody knows! We’re all making this up as we’re going along, without exception.

“Even the very few who were alive just after the First World War, when we had the flu pandemic in 1918-19, would have themselves been babies. There is nobody with living memory of anything like this,” continues Ben, alluding to the previously un-encountered aspect of the pandemic. “After the Second World War everything bounced back pretty quickly, but there wasn’t a virus to contend with at that time. My parents were both professional actors and were pretty much working directly after the war ended; they were young actors in Rep. But you only have to look back after the 1918-19 flu pandemic to the Roaring Twenties, when things had got back to normal. That’s the year after. So, we just have to keep our fingers crossed.”

As playwright’s, both Ben and Tom have waived any financial penalties for societies that do need to reschedule to next year. “The amateur market, for me, is a much larger part of my licensing base,” Ben told me. “Obviously I want them to be able to take a punt… and knowing it’s not really even a punt because it can be transferred to next year if necessary. Most people also think that, ‘If we want to do Puss in Boots, Cinderella or Treasure Island,’ – whatever it may be – ‘and we can’t, then it doesn’t mean we don’t want to do it next year.’ A lot of societies know that they simply cannot perform this year. They might have a venue for a week, but at a certain time only. And if they can’t have it for whatever reason then it just has to roll over until next year. There are almost as many different sets of circumstances as there are societies aren’t there?

“Everybody’s in a slightly different boat. But the one thing I really have noticed about the amateur sector is that everybody’s very ingenious and they’re usually able to come up with a solution, in all sorts of ways. Within their memberships they’ve normally got people from all walks of life, providing many different areas of expertise. There’s always somebody who’ll be a wizard at something and will blow your socks off.”

“While there has been a perfectly understandable drop in perusal copy requests, my clients are desperate to come back together and get back to doing what they love and do best,” agrees Tom. “I introduced a Covid-secure, no-quibble postponement clause so that any licensed productions though Tom Whalley Pantomimes can be delayed and rescheduled at no additional charge. This has helped many groups book their scripts with confidence for 2020, Easter and even Christmas 2021.”

“I’ve also had groups seeking to use the scripts in new, creative ways,” reports Tom before explaining that an amateur pantomime is definitely not just for Christmas. “One client is using my Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates script for a swashbuckling summer school; developing a whole week of fun activities teaching children about the history of pantomime and piracy culminating in an online pantomime performance. I can’t wait to see it.”

That is for this year, of course. Martin Dodd isn’t so confident that things will get back to normal anytime soon: “Without wishing to be too pessimistic, I wouldn’t bet on being in a better position this time next year,” he told me (in a slightly depressing tone). “Without a vaccine it’s going to take a long time to get back to normal and we’ll [‘Theatre’] be at the bottom of the list when it comes to relaxing the rules and also people having the confidence to return. The reason is simple; people don’t have to do it. They might sit on an aeroplane because they really want to go on holiday and only have a small window of opportunity but when it comes to paying for a ticket to sit in a theatre where they might risk catching the virus, they could just say, ‘I’ll go next month instead.’ So, it’ll be a slow return to normal but I hope I’m wrong!”

Laura Taylor took an arguably more diplomatic route: “I think some of it is a lack of understanding. Don’t get me wrong; I would not want to be in a politician’s shoes at the moment, as I think they’ve got an impossible task ahead of them trying to manage this, so I do sympathise a lot. But I think saying things like, ‘you can open theatres without live performance,’ then it’s not theatre is it; it becomes a cinema or hospitality through the restaurant.”

Martin Dodd isn’t impressed by the Government’s reaction to the crisis either. Regarding the guidelines that were issued he says: “They don’t seem to have been written by anyone who’s had to run a show backstage. They’re Just not practical for large shows; one-way systems, actors in their own bubbles only with the other actors they’re actually acting within the show. They clearly haven’t accounted for putting shows the size of musicals into many of our very old theatres, especially for short runs or touring. From Sardines’ point of view it must be even worse because a few of the guidelines say it’s possible to do some things only if it’s a professional production, and therefore you have to assume that it will be even further down the road before amateur theatre can get the full go ahead.”

The pros and cons of participating in ‘theatre’ – as a hobby – is perhaps the subject of another article. For now, it’s obvious that Martin Dodd is facing some impossible decisions, as well as being completely passionate about producing pantomime. “Even if the Government said that theatres didn’t have to socially distance, returning would still be very difficult from a financial point of view as we are unable to get insurance cover against Covid-related show cancellations. It may have been better If the £1.5 billion, or better still another fund, was used for a cancellation insurance scheme which would be a positive force to get the industry working again. Producers and theatres could take the risk that the public will want to return, knowing that we could call on this pot of money if cancellations happened. That might get things going a lot quicker although we still haven’t seen the detail yet for the grants. I hope that ourselves and others in the supply chain may qualify for some help but apart from the very welcome Furlough scheme unfortunately we didn’t qualify to get even a rates rebate from the retail, hospitality and leisure grant!” …and Martin Dodd’s UK Productions is also in the business of hiring out entire stage sets and costumes to both the amateur and professional markets (housed in five large warehouses across three different sites!).

Ben Crocker agrees that there are plenty of suppliers to theatre companies (many of whom are amateur) who have also fallen victim to the shutdown. “The people, I imagine, who must be having a really tough time at the moment are people such as the costumiers, lighting hire companies, sets, wigs… We obviously sell to the same people but at least I don’t have the overheads and investment in stock. All that kind of thing costs money to operate. We’re all in an impossible situation and, as we’ve said, nobody’s been here before. Whatever happens, mistakes will be made.”

One thing that everybody completely agrees with is that way back in March nobody foresaw the kind of challenges we are all now facing. “Who could have seen this coming?” replied Tom Whalley. “I was very optimistic back in March, reading every article I could find and convincing myself that it was ‘only March’ and things would eventually return to normal in good time. As the reality of the world’s reaction started to become more stark and the question mark over the 2020 pantomime season remained, it became clear that I (both as a resident pantomime performer as well as a writer) needed to prepare for the worst but hope for the best.”

“I think when we went into lockdown in March, everyone had their eyes on China, which was just coming out of their own lockdown,” agrees Laura Taylor. “So we thought, ‘OK, well it’s going to be twelve weeks of hell and then we’re all going to come out of it on the other side.’ I don’t think, at that point, any one of us would have predicted the length and the detrimental effect it was going to have. The trouble is there’s no end date to all of this which is slightly worrying, isn’t it.”

I had The Kite Runner on the road when lockdown came in,” recalls Martin. “We’d literally only played three weeks following rehearsals and had to close the whole thing. With the best will in the world I don’t think it’s going to get better before the spring. The only thing that’s going to change anything is if we get a vaccine.

For the last word, we’ll happily hand over to Ben Crocker: “I think that whatever happens this year, whichever market you wish to focus on it’ll be a very subdued year, and everybody understands that. But I do think that the moment it becomes viable to start to bounce back, I think it will happen with gusto. There will be a real yearning for those community experiences. Again, in the amateur world, I think that community aspect is such an important part of everything. That’s why it’s a slightly different equation to the professional shows. Amateur productions will offer a financially viable way to create that very British seasonal entertainment that we all love.”

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Cancelled 2020 productions…

Since Qdos made its big announcement on Monday, 3 August, December’s regular pantomime slot for this year’s season has been shrinking faster than a pot plant in the summer sunshine. However, the announcements are almost entirely professional and we’ve heard very little from amateur societies that might be waiting in the wings ready to reclaim the pantomime stage.
Here’s a list of the shows that have already cut their losses and announced rescheduled dates for 2021. This is only a snapshot and you can bet there are lots more to come. It’s a long and truly tragic list!

Adam Smith Theatre; Kirkcaldy, Snow White, Imagine Theatre – Dates: 5 Dec – 3 Jan
Anvil Arts, Basingstoke; Beauty and the Beast, UK Productions – Dates: 10 Dec – 3 Jan
Arts Depot, London; Aladdin, Arts Depot – Dates: 4 Dec – 3 Jan
Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells; Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Evolution – Dates: 11 Dec – 3 Jan
Birmingham Hippodrome; Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Qdos – Dates: 19 Dec – 31 Jan
Blackpool Grand; Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, UK Productions – Dates: 4 Dec – 3 Jan
Blackpool Winter Gardens; Cinderella, Charming Pantomimes – Dates: 13 Dec – 3 Jan
Bolton Albert Halls; Beauty and the Beast, Polka Dot Pantomimes – Dates: 28 Nov – 31 Dec
Bolton Victoria Hall; Snow White, Joseph Purdy Productions – Dates: 21 Nov – 28 Dec
Buxton Opera House; Aladdin, Scene 3 Creative – Dates: 12 Dec – 1 Jan
The Byre Theatre, St Andrews; Title not listed, The Byre Theatre – Dates: Not listed
Central Theatre, Chatham; Peter Pan, Jordan Productions – Dates: 10 Dec – 3 Jan
The Clifties; Title not listed, The Clifties – Dates: Feb 2021
Curve Leicester; The Wizard Of Oz, Really Useful Group – Dates: 28 Nov – 16 Jan
Durham Gala Theatre; Robin Hood, Gala Theatre – Dates: 25 Nov – 10 Jan
Empire Theatre, Consett; Treasure Island, Leah Bell – Dates: 27 Nov – 31 Dec
Encore Theatre Company; Cinderella, Encore Theatre Company – Dates: Not listed
Exeter Northcott Theatre; Robin Hood, Northcott Theatre – Dates: 5 Dec – 10 Jan
Falkirk FTH Theatre; Beauty and the Beast, Imagine Theatre – Dates: 11 Dec – 30 Dec
Glasgow Tron Theatre; The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, Tron Theatre Company – Dates: 26 Nov – 10 Jan
Grand Opera House, Belfast; Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Qdos – Dates: 28 Nov – 10 Jan
Guildhall Arts Centre, Grantham; Jack and the Beanstalk, Polka Dot Pantomimes – Dates: 15 Dec – 3 Jan
Hackney Empire; Jack and the Beanstalk, Hackney Empire – Dates: 21 Nov – 3 Jan
Harrogate Theatre; Cinderella, Harrogate Theatre – Dates: 25 Nov – 24 Jan
Hexagon Reading; Beauty and the Beast, Imagine Theatre – Dates: 5 Dec – 3 Jan
Hilton Metropole, Brighton; Aladdin, E3 Events – Dates: Not listed
His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen; Beauty and the Beast, Qdos – Dates: 28 Nov – 3 Jan
Kilmarnock Palace Theatre; Aladdin, Imagine Theatre – Dates: 27 Nov – 30 Dec
Kings Theatre, Edinburgh; Sleeping Beauty, Qdos – Dates: 28 Nov – 17 Jan
Kings Theatre, Portsmouth; Peter Pan, Mark Thompson Productions – Dates: 5 Dec – 3 Jan
Loughborough Town Hall; Aladdin, Little Wolf Entertainment – Dates: 21 Nov – 3 Jan
Lyric Hammersmith Theatre; Aladdin, Lyric Hammersmith – Dates: 14 Nov – 3 Jan
Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury; Jack and the Beanstalk, Evolution – Dates: 26 Nov – 21 Dec
New Theatre, Cardiff; Aladdin, Qdos – Dates: 5 Dec – 10 Jan
New Theatre, Hull; Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Qdos – Dates: 12 Dec – 3 Jan
New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth; Cinderella, Jordan Productions – Dates: 16 Dec – 2 Jan
Norwich Theatre Royal; Dick Whittington and His Cat, Norwich Theatre Royal – Dates: 8 Dec – 10 Jan
Peterborough New Theatre; Aladdin, Prime Pantomimes – Dates: 12 Dec – 31 Dec
Phoenix Theatre Group; Dick Whittington, Evesham Arts Centre – Dates: 20 Jan – 24 Jan
Porthcawl Grand Pavillion; Aladdin, Imagine Theatre – Dates: 11 Dec – 3 Jan
Princes Theatre, Clacton; Jack and the Beanstalk, Anton Benson Productions – No dates listed
Queen’s Theatre, Barnstaple; Cinderella, Prime Pantomimes – Dates: 11 Dec – 3 Jan
Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch; Aladdin, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch – Dates: 26 Nov – 3 Jan
Rotherham Civic Theatre; Aladdin, Imagine Theatre – Dates: 4 Dec – 10 Jan
Salisbury Playhouse; Cinderella, Wiltshire Creative – Dates: 28 Nov – 10 Jan
The Savoy Theatre, Monmouth; Jack and the Beanstalk, Spontaneous productions – Dates: 14 Dec – 1 Jan
Sheffield Lyceum; Sleeping Beauty, Evolution – Dates: 4 Dec – 3 Jan
South Holland Centre, Spalding; Dick Whittington, Polka Dot Pantomimes – Dates: 9 Dec – 30 Dec
South Shields Customs House; Rapunzel, Customs House – Dates: 25 Nov – 3 Jan
Southampton Mayflower; Cinderella, Qdos – Dates: 11 Dec – 3 Jan
Southport Waterfront Theatre; Peter Pan, Shone Productions – Dates: 11 Dec – 30 Dec
The Spotlight, Hoddesdon; Peter Pan, PHA Pantomimes – Dates: 11 Dec – 31 Dec
Stafford Gatehouse Theatre; Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Prime Pantomimes – Dates: 11 Dec – 3 Jan
Stirling Macrobert Arts Theatre; Mother Goose, Macrobert Arts Theatre – Dates: 27 Nov – 4 Jan
Theatr Clwyd; Beauty and the Beast, Theatr Clwyd – Dates: 20 Nov – 16 Jan
Theatre Royal, Nottingham; Robin Hood, Qdos – Dates: 5 Dec – 10 Jan
Theatre Royal, Stratford East; Red Riding Hood, Theatre Royal Stratford East – Dates: 21 Nov – 9 Jan
Theatre Royal, Wakefield; Beauty and the Beast, Theatre Royal Wakefield – Dates: 19 Nov – 3 Jan
Welwyn Garden City Campus West; Jack and the Beanstalk, Campus West – Dates: 10 Dec – 2 Jan
Wolverhampton Grand Theatre; Cinderella, Wolverhampton Grand – Dates: 5 Dec – 10 Jan
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford; Robin Hood, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre – Dates: 4 Dec – 3 Jan

The Great British Panto Chase Off Quiz (Panto Special)

The Great British Panto Chase Off Quiz (Panto Special)

Imagine if you will a popular TV quiz show given a panto feel…

Buttons: (To Audience.) Hello, everyone and welcome to The Great British Panto Chase Off Quiz, where our Chasers give the contestants the runaround. From Pantoland we have four contestants hoping to beat our Panto Chase Villain. Today’s villain to beat is the dark side destroyer himself – Abanazzar.

Abanazar: I’ll stop these panto characters from getting their hands on the money if it’s the last thing I do.

4 Contestants: OH, NO YOU WON’T!

Abanazar: OH, YES I WILL!

4 Contestants: OH, NO YOU WON’T!

Abanazar: OH, YES I WILL!

Buttons: Looking at this motley crew of contestants my money is on Abanazar. Right, let’s introduce our first contestant. She is always on the pull and used to milking every panto joke going.

Dame Trott: (To Buttons.) Speak for yourself, dear heart. (To Audience.) Ooh, hello boys and girls, I’m Dame Trott, I own a dairy.

Buttons: I hope you’re wearing your winter drawers, I heard your dairy is Freesian.

Dame Trott: (To Man in audience.) It may be Freesian but don’t you worry, handsome – I’m hot stuff and my hands are lovely and warm.

Buttons: That’s some frock you’re wearing, love, business must be heffer so good. Are you ready for your first question?

Dame Trott: Bring it on, big boy.

Buttons: This one’s right up your milking shed, love. Why do cows wear bells? A.) Because their horns don’t work. B.) Because they ding dong merrily on high. Or C.) So that you can locate them in a pea-souper fog?

(Abanazar and Dame Trott press buzzers.)

Buttons: The correct panto answer was ‘A.) because their horns don’t work’. Well done, Dame Trott. Abanazar, you pressed ‘B’ which is incorrect. One-nil to the Pantoland contestants.

Abanazar: I’ll get even with you lot…

Buttons: Yeah, keep deluding yourself, Avvabanana. Right, let’s introduce our charming second contestant. Tell us who you are and what you do, princess.

Cinderella: My name is Cinderella and I’m a scullery maid. I’m waiting for Mister Right to come along.

Dame Trott: Aren’t we all, dear. Just remember that I saw him first.

Buttons: Good luck, Cinders. Here’s your question. Which famous author wrote For Whom The Bell Tolls? Was it A.) Justin Time. B.) Ernest Hemingway. Or C.) Ivanna Rolex?

(Abanazar and Cinderella press buzzers.)

Buttons: The correct panto answer was ‘B’. Well done, Cinders.

Cinderella: Really? I meant to press ‘C.) Ivanna Rolex’.

Buttons: Azabajanar you were wrong again; why did you press ‘C’?

Abanazar: Because I wanna Rolex.

Buttons: Yeah, well you’d better start saving up, mate. Right, let’s introduce our next contestant. Tell us who you are and what you do.

Wishee: My name is Wishee Washee and I help my Mum run her lingerie laundry business: ‘Where there’s muck there’s bras’.

Buttons: That job sounds pants if you ask me.

Wishee: Yeah, washing undies isn’t all it’s scrubbed up to be.

Buttons: Ok Wishee, here’s your question. Who directed the film My Beautiful Launderette? Was it A.) C. Stermatic. B.) Della Cutwash. Or C.) Stephen Frears?

(Abanazar and Wishee Washee press buzzers.)

Buttons: You both pressed ‘C’ so you’re both right. It all rests on the final question and our next contestant.

Robin Hood: (Slaps thigh.) I’m Robin Hood. I live in Nottingham and I rob the rich and give to the poor.

Buttons: Loving the tights, Robin. (To Abanazar.) Avva pyjama, you need to win this to force a tie break.

Abanazar: I’m in it to win it. The money is as good as mine, mwah ha ha.

Buttons: Ok Robin, here’s your question. What is the name of the annual market in Nottingham? Is it A.) The Goosey Goosey Gander Fair. B.) The Mother Goose Fair. Or C.) The Goose Fair?

(Robin presses buzzer.)

Buttons: Avvallama, I need your answer. Three, two, one – too late.

Abanazar: (Holds bag of money aloft.) Too bad for you that I have already won – the money is mine, all mine, mwah ha ha.

Robin Hood: You won’t get away with this, Abanazar. (Slaps thigh.) Okay, gang – let’s give chase.

(Cue Yakkitty Sax music. Comedy business as Dame Trott, Wishee Washee, Cinderella, Robin Hood and Buttons chase Abanazar backwards and forwards across the stage.)

Buttons: Thanks for watching The Great British Panto Chase Off Quiz.


Bradley Walsh as Smee with Flawless in Peter Pan at Milton Keynes (2014)