I am normally digging deep into my box of excuses at this time of year, trying to find good enough reason to respond with a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to various pantomime invitations.
Would that I could this year. I’d give quite a lot to be able to shout ‘he’s behind you’ at a stage after the year that we’ve had.
That pantomimes have been rendered all but impossible to stage this year is another kick in the teeth to a theatre industry that has never been so tested. It has responded admirably once again, however, and the good news is that there is plenty to tell you about in terms of festive offerings.
When in early December the county was split into tier one, two and three regions, it caused a huge headache for our theatres. Stephen Joseph Theatre for example, was in tier two, but people visit the theatre, in normal times, from tier three areas. At the time of going to press it feels like everything is still up in the air, so I’m simply going to tell you about what is on offer at our venues and remind you that it really would be a good idea to check the rules before setting off to see a Christmas show.
If you do head for SJT, you will be rewarded with a one-woman show from a fine actor. Polly Lister was last seen scaring youngsters round these parts when she played the Wicked Witch in the Leeds Playhouse production of The Wizard of Oz. In Scarborough she takes the title role in The Snow Queen, adapted by son of Hull Nick Lane. With the theatre’s artistic director Paul Robinson at the helm, that’s a formidable combination. Lane’s scripts always sparkle with irreverent charm and Lister is a brilliant performer.
Lane says: “Will it be ridiculous? Will there be brilliant songs? Will you look at hedgehogs in the same way again? Yes, yes and possibly not. In that order.”
Director Paul Robinson says: “We can’t tell you how excited we all are about our Christmas production this year – it will deliver all the things everyone loves about Christmas. It feels so important to be offering a bit of sparkle and excitement to round off what’s been, let’s face it, a year somewhat lacking in both.”
In Sheffield there is an attempt to bring some panto spirit to the city’s theatre with the perennially popular panto dame Damian Williams bringing Damian’s Pop-Up Panto to the Crucible.
He’ll be joined on stage by internet dance sensation Joe Tracini and West End stars Gemma Sutton, Lucas Rush and Deborah Tracey. Just over an hour-long story, the pop-up panto will tell the story of what happens when a baddie attempts to steal the joy of panto. The theatre is also streaming its co-production with Utopia Theatre of Oladipo Agboluaje’s Here’s What She Said to Me, available via its website.
Another Sheffield company streaming work is Third Angel. The little company with a highly regarded reputation has put a number of its shows online. I’d find it hard to recommend just one, because their output is always delightful. You can find several at thirdangel.co.uk
Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley Theatre, which has frankly played a bit of a blinder during the lockdown, making all kinds of work available to its audiences, continues the good work in December.
The venue will be streaming an animated version of A Christmas Carol to households throughout December. The digital production which combines radio play and original animation sees broadcaster Gyles Brandreth voice the cold-hearted protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge next to a cast of community members.
Meanwhile, Hull Truck Theatre has joined forces with local broadband provider KCOM to create a festive digital experience. Miracle on the Humber features four festive stories which have been captured as short films themed around kindness, joy, family and love. Locals will recognise the settings, with The Deep and Ferens Art Gallery, appearing in the stories by Yorkshire writers Maureen Lennon and Sam Caseley.
The narrators include Barrie Rutter, Matthew Booth and Amy Thompson. The first film, a re-telling of Cinderella, will be released on the evening of December 21, and be available to watch via Hull Truck Theatre’s YouTube channel. The remaining films will be released daily at 5pm until Christmas Eve.
Leeds Playhouse, again at the time of going to press, has everything crossed that it will be able to share its socially-distanced version of A Christmas Carol with audiences. Whether or not it will be able to share its work live depends entirely on which tier West Yorkshire finds itself. Those who had tickets booked and paid for earlier in December found themselves able to stream the show at home. Everyone will be hoping they won’t have to resort to that again – but it is there as an option.
In York Producer Nik Briggs and York Stage have combined to present a pantomime at [email protected] Monkgate building in York. Jack and the Beanstalk is being staged in the unusual venue for unusual times. York Theatre Royal has pulled out all the stops to stage The Travelling Pantomime, yet another venue doing something inventive to keep the festive spirit alive.
There are, as you will understand, a whole host of rules about who can and can’t book to see a performance. The easiest way to check is to visit the theatre’s website.
While the logistics are complicated, the story is not: the Christmas spirit will prevail in Yorkshire theatres.
Digital ways to catch a festive show
Haunting Julia, written and performed by Sir Alan Ayckbourn. Available through the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarrborough’s website www.sjt.uk.com The production will be running there until January 5.
A Christmas Carol, Harrogate Theatre. This will be performed by Adam Z Robinson and will be available to view from December 19 to 23 via www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk
You Can Bet It’s Christmas. The mighty Slung Low bring a festive offering on YouTube and the theatre company’s website at 6pm on December 23. Watch it via www.slunglow.org