Pantomime is to go ahead at Chelmsford City Theatres this year with a run of COVID-secure performances of Sleeping Beauty. The Civic has never had to cancel a panto in the last 58 years and the theatre team has been working hard to find a way to save their joyful annual co-production, loved by audiences across Essex.
Chelmsford City Theatres, along with venues across the country, closed their doors in March. Although some performances have been streamed from the theatre over the summer, the Christmas panto is the first physical production to get the green light since the pandemic began.
The theatres are run by Chelmsford City Council and Deputy Leader Cllr Marie Goldman hopes Sleeping Beauty will be a lifeline to the city’s cultural scene at a devastating time:
“The performing arts have been brought to the brink of ruin by coronavirus and we have a responsibility to do whatever we can to keep this vulnerable part of our economy going. As long as government restrictions allow, we’ll be going ahead with our panto this year, employing actors, musicians, and technicians to bring this festive production to our city.”
Only 30% of the seats in the main auditorium will be used to keep groups of theatregoers a safe distance apart, with a special seating plan to allow households of different sizes to sit together. A range of other measures, from one-way systems to extra cleaning between performances will also be in place, and masks will be mandatory for anyone who must wear them.
Despite these changes, the theatres’ artistic director Ian Knowles says this year’s show will be as much fun as ever:
“Our number one priority is keeping our loyal audiences safe, but rest assured, we won’t be taking the joy out of panto in the process. The script has been written by Chris Jarvis of CBeebies and this new version of Sleeping Beauty will have as much sparkle as ever with uplifting songs, beautiful sets and plenty of laughs to get you in the Christmas spirit.”
The annual Chelmsford panto is a co-production with ‘One From The Heart’, an experienced production company who’ve been creating pantomimes for Chelmsford Theatres for 14 years. Producer Daryl Back says it’s a huge relief that Sleeping Beauty will go ahead if it can:
“We’re incredibly grateful that Chelmsford City Council is bringing our production to Chelmsford this winter. It’s the only pantomime we’re working on in 2020 and as well as bringing much-needed cheer to families, this run will ensure that talented actors, musicians and technical staff have a chance to be paid. It’s hard to overstate how difficult a year it’s been for performers and crews and they can’t wait to get started on Sleeping Beauty.”
Theatre staff will be contacting customers who booked tickets for Sleeping Beauty before lockdown to allocate seats according to current COVID-19 restrictions. Once places for existing bookings have been filled, all remaining tickets will go on sale. Customers will be able to have a full refund at any point, if they wish.
More details about the production will be released later this month on the Chelmsford City Theatres website and social media pages. Sleeping Beauty is planned to run between 27 November and 3 January.