Many things have been put on the backburner this Christmas – but one of the hardest hit industries of the festive period has been the pantomime.
The continued closure of theatres has put paid to the traditional way of enjoying a festive show – but it hasn’t stopped those behind the Christmas productions coming up with innovative ways of entertaining the masses.
We spoke to a range of theatres and drama groups across Tayside and Fife to find out if they would still be putting on a show.
Dundee Rep Theatre
Despite coronavirus restrictions, the Dundee Rep has a busy festive season ahead of them.
Although the usual Christmas show has been postponed, bosses at the theatre have launched a digital seasonal offering called Shine On.
Artistic Director of Dundee Rep Theatre and joint CEO of Dundee Rep and Scottish Dance Theatre Ltd, Andrew Panton, said: “We normally have a Christmas show, so last year that was Oor Wullie: The Musical.
“Normally it would be a time where generally speaking it would be the longest of our runs. We would run for probably six or seven weeks and we would expect to see the highest level of footfall during that period, so to not be able to welcome our audiences into the building is a big shift for us this year.
“Shine On, we are really proud of. It’s our alternative seasonal offer this year and Shine On encompasses Present.
“Each day of December, through our social media channels, there will be a bespoke piece of entertainment from our acting ensemble and our dance ensemble. The whole process of the ensembles making these pieces of work will be covered in a documentary which is also called Shine On.
“That will be like a behind the scenes look at how our ensembles and the whole organisation really has been coping with this time and how we’ve continued to engage with communities, our audiences and our participants.”
Andrew added that staff at the Rep were keen to not let audiences down this festive season.
He said: “For many families Christmas time is maybe the one time they come to the theatre and it’s really important, as a responsibility for us, because for young people and children, it might be their first experience of theatre and the arts.
“We are really keen not to let our audiences down and not to let our communities down and that’s why we’ve come up with this season’s Shine On.”
Andrew added: “We are really excited, there is a real buzz in the building, and in our virtual building.
“There is a real buzz that we are making work and finding new ways to make work. I think that’s the thing about these parameters, it’s been a really challenging time for so many people and across the theatre sector and dance sector its been incredibly challenging.”
As part of their Christmas season they will also be animating the front of the Rep Theatre, with a sound and light installation, narrated by a well-known Dundee voice.
Perth Theatre is well under way with plans for a Christmas panto. Actors at the theatre were originally going to be performing Cinderella, however, due to the pandemic the show had to be postponed.
Instead, Dame of the pantomimes at the theatre, Barrie Hunter, has written and directed an all new online show: Oh Yes We are. Originally the plan was to stream the show live online as well as have a small in-person, socially distanced, promenade moving around the theatre.
The city’s move into Level 3, however, meant this could no longer go ahead.
But Barrie assures the panto will be as live and as interactive as normal.
He said: “We’ll still be able to have a sing along, people will be able to join in, there will be a lot of muting and unmuting.
“Our space management will become technical wizards, and will be muting and unmuting the audience constantly throughout the show, so when we ask them for a response, they’ll be able to respond and we’ll be able to hear them as will the rest of the audience.
“There will be the usual ‘its’s behind you’ moments, the usual ‘oh no you don’ts’ and ‘oh yes you wills’ and all those kind of things.
“We’ll ask people to go grab something from their kitchen that they can make a noise with or hold something up of a certain colour, do all these kind of things, to keep it very much an audience participatory two-way street.”
Barrie adds that the thought of not putting on a show didn’t occur to the people behind the scenes in Perth.
He said: “There was never really a moment we said ‘well that’s it, Christmas is cancelled let’s all reconvene next year’. Right from the get-go we started talking very positively about well it doesn’t matter about what we can’t do, what can we do?
“Almost always a pantomime or Christmas show will be a young person’s first experience of being in an actual theatre.
“Sadly we can’t offer them that exactly this year but I think we are giving them the next best thing. As part of the narrative of the story goes, theatre itself, and theatre buildings and what theatre is is very much central to the story of this anyway.
“I don’t want to give too many spoilers away but it’s a kind of celebration of theatre and a celebration of what it means to people.
“It’s a celebration of everything we have been kind of missing this year, it’s a search for the light and the laughter basically in the face of darkness and gloom. I hope, along the way of it, we can touch a few people but we also can – most importantly – make them laugh and take them out of themselves for an hour and 15 minutes.
“We just hope people kind of buy into the whole idea of it and get involved. It’s one thing turning up to watch it, but it would be fantastic if everyone could shout and bawl and throw things up in the air and do whatever we ask them to do and we’ll try and do anything they ask us to do as well.”
Oh Yes We Are will run from December 11 to Christmas Eve, inclusive, and tickets cost £16 per device.
The Whitehall Theatre and Downfield Musical Society
Downfield Musical Society (DMS) are not letting the pandemic get in the way of producing this year’s panto.
The group have been out in Dundee filming for their online performance, Searching for Cinders.
Graeme Smith, director and writer of DMS panto, who is also financial director of the Whitehall Theatre, said: “The pantomime is something that really keeps us going throughout the year, because it’s quite a lucrative business for us, we get upwards of 5-6,000 people coming to see it every year now in the Whitehall.
“It really is the Whitehall Theatre panto. I think this is the first year since 1969 that there has been no panto of some sort in the Whitehall Theatre.
“The kids were all upset there was not going to be an event this year so we just decided that we’d try and do something within the Covid rules in a virtual situation – but filmed within the city of Dundee.
“I’ve written the panto for years now and I wrote this sketch-type panto called Searching for Cinders, and Cinderella doesn’t know where her panto is and she is looking all over Dundee for it. She goes to places like the City Square, the Discovery, even the Airport.”
He added: “A lot of the filming was done by people’s wives; we had to try and make sure that we were legal in what we were doing. We are out in the main streets so there’s people going about.
“Everybody had good fun doing it. I think some people in the city must have been wondering why a guy was wondering around as Dame Trott in the middle of City Square.”
Venue manger, Scott McRuvie said: “It’s really important that we do reach out to our audiences and let them know that we are still here and when the time is right the theatre will be open again.
“We are glad that we are able to beat coronavirus in some way and still have some kind of panto going on, albeit digitally this year, it is going to be slightly different, but if it’s there and it’s raising spirits that’s the most important thing.”
Searching for Cinders will be broadcast on the Whitehall Theatre’s Facebook on December 18.
The theatre launched their digital Christmas season ‘Dreaming of a Whitehall Christmas’ last month.
Monifieth Amateur Dramatics (MAD)
The group at Monifieth Amateur Dramatics have had to postpone their performance of Jack and the Beanstalk as well as other performances over the course of the pandemic.
However, the group have been keeping busy and each week in December will be releasing an episode of their Zoom panto, ‘Jack AmooZoom and the Beanstalk’ as well as other festive projects.
Nicky Stewart, writer and director of the online episodes, said: “We were planning to have a panto promenade where we moved with a trailer to different streets so that people could come out and watch us but we couldn’t do that, in the last lot of restrictions that was definitely a no no. So this was our plan c.”
Euan Smith, who plays Jack in the online panto, talks about the struggle of performing via a screen rather than on onstage.
He said: “It was weird. It’s less animated I’d say. You have to really force yourself more because you are not standing, you are just sitting, you are not able to react as much to the players because they are not in the same place. It’s definitely a unique experience but you just get on with it, because that’s what we like to do.”
Despite coronavirus restrictions, the group were determined to still put on a show.
Euan added: “We can’t stop, we just love to do this stuff. It’s also good to spread cheer, because people are still celebrating Christmas. The world doesn’t stop even if there is a pandemic. We are sending out a great message to people.”
Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy
The Adam Smith was set to perform Snow White as their Christmas panto. However the show has now been postponed until next year and changed to Cinderella.
Michelle Sweeney, Director of Creative Development at OnFife who own the theatre said: “We decided to close our theatres, all four of them, in advance of the Government announcement on that.
“We had made a decision ourselves as an organisation that we were going to decide on what was the criteria that was affecting us and our staff and act whenever we thought that was necessary.
“We had really considered and explored the options around a virtual offer and the offer even of a filmed buy-in offer.
“We decided that we were just going to postpone it until next year.”
Michelle added they had looked at producing a piece of theatre called the Magic of Christmas, alongside Pitlochry Festival Theatre, although that also had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus restrictions.
“Clearly it would not be financially viable to do a socially distanced panto. If you were looking at it from point of view of finance, that would just not be feasible,” said Michelle.
“However, then there is the whole experience of panto, and sitting at a panto in a half empty theatre is not a good experience.
“Panto is all about jumping up and down, it’s very interactive, stuff is being thrown from the stage to the audience, that’s the magic of panto. So for us, of course, we did consider it and would have had to consider the financial aspect of it.
“We could have done it financially if we had decided to do it virtually. I’m glad we didn’t – I don’t think it would have been the right decision for us, but really, socially distanced panto, that’s actually not panto. It’s just not what panto is about at all, it’s such a unique experience.”
OnFife has launched a busy virtual Christmas package as part of its ShineOnFife programme which provides activities for children, families and adults.