Pantomime firm’s shows start to fall in ‘devastating’ blow for theatres

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Mayflower/Qdos

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Craig Revel Horwood and Debbie McGee were due to star in Cinderella in Southampton

The UK’s biggest pantomime producer has started cancelling its 2020 shows amid ongoing uncertainty about when theatres will be able to reopen fully.

Qdos has put this year’s festive shows in Aberdeen, Belfast, Edinburgh and Southampton back to 2021.

The operator of the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh said the move would result in “the massive loss of £2.3m at the worst possible time for the theatres”.

Qdos had been planning to stage 34 pantos across the UK this Christmas.

It is discussing the fates of the other 30 with those venues – “a complex process” that it says will take several weeks.

Qdos set a deadline of 3 August to get “clarity” from the government about the reopening of theatres.

But last week, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told BBC Radio 4 he didn’t expect to be able to give a date for allowing audiences in without social distancing until November “at the earliest”.

Pantomimes are crucial to theatre earnings, but are unlikely to be financially viable with social distancing restrictions in place.

On Wednesday, Qdos confirmed that four shows had been rescheduled:

  • Cinderella at the Mayflower in Southampton, due to star Craig Revel Horwood and Debbie McGee, was due to run from 11 December 2020 to 3 January 2021, but has been put back to Christmas 2021.
  • Beauty and the Beast at His Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen, scheduled to run from 28 November 2020 to 3 January 2021, will now run from 4 December 2021 to 9 January 2022.
  • Sleeping Beauty at the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh, scheduled to run from 28 November 2020 to 17 January 2021, will now run from 27 November 2021 to 16 January 2022.
  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears at the Grand Opera House in Belfast, scheduled to run from 28 November 2020 to 10 January 2021, will now open in “late 2021”.

‘Devastating’ blow

In a statement, Capital Theatres, which runs the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh, said the seasonal show accounted for 30% of the company’s annual income.

Chief executive Fiona Gibson said the cancellation was the “biggest blow” to face the company since the coronavirus lockdown was imposed in March.

“Capital Theatres is Scotland’s largest theatre charity and the impact of this decision is devastating,” she said.

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The refurbishment of the Grand Opera House in Belfast began in January

Belfast Grand Opera House chief executive Ian Wilson called the postponements of the panto and three other shows “hugely disappointing” and “a significant blow to the theatre’s finances at an already challenging time”.

Aberdeen Performing Arts, which manages His Majesty’s Theatre, said “ongoing restrictions and the expected timescale for their relaxation” made it “impossible… to deliver a viable pantomime season this year”.

Lockdown restrictions were reimposed in the city due on Wednesday to a coronavirus cluster in the city.

Qdos’s 30 remaining pantos are scheduled for cities including Birmingham, Bradford and Bristol.

In a statement on Monday, the company said it was “left with no choice but to begin the consultation process with our partner theatres about the viability of each show”.

Other producers and venues have already pulled the plug on festive productions in locations including Leicester, Norwich and Welwyn Garden City.

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