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Cancelled Queen’s Theatre panto “too big a financial risk” says director

The production of Aladdin later this year has been put back to next year

The artistic director of Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch says the decision to cancel its winter pantomime was made to future-proof the venue beyond 2020.

The theatre announced yesterday that it would postpone the production of Aladdin until 2021, due to a lack of certainty over when audiences would be allowed back in without the need for social distancing.

Three other theatres in Greater London said yesterday that they had also postponed their productions.

Douglas Rintoul says it was heartbreaking that Queen’s Theatre will not go ahead with its panto, but it would have been worse to begin preparations for the show, only for it to be cancelled at a later date.

“It would have been a huge financial risk to do it and it could have been quite devastating if we had tried to go ahead with our panto in the way that we normally do,” he told Time 107.5FM

“The set is designed, the script is written. We started casting for it, we would have started building the set now. 

“The whole of the industry was really pushing the government to give us the earliest date of when we might be able to have auditoriums not socially distanced.

“They couldn’t give an answer until November and, of course, that’s far too late; we would have opened panto by then and it’s just not financially viable for us to be able to do a pantomime socially distanced.”

Douglas Rintoul, the artistic director at Queens Theatre Hornchurch (credit: Queens Theatre)

“Freelancers make up 70 per cent of the theatre industry in the UK and we can all, as a community, guarantee that there is quite a lot of work around Christmas. That really is one of the moments when actors, technicians, designers, and directors know there are lots of opportunities to be able to be working and, of course, that has gone.

“Altogether, we have around about 75 people working on the pantomime during the construction and the making of it so that’s devastating, not to be able to bring our much, much-loved community of freelancers back into the building for that opportunity.”

Instead of the panto, Queen’s will be showing a seasonal variety show called Christmas Allsorts.

The show will feature singing, dancing, and comedy and will take place in the main auditorium with a reduced capacity of 200, compared to the usual 507.

“It will be really delightful, it will feel quite traditional, glamorous, a bit naughty. It will everything that you would want a show to be about at Christmas. 

“We wanted to still create an opportunity where people could come to the Queen’s and have a really special night out around that special time of the year.

“It’s a moment where we want to come together as human beings. That’s the beauty of Christmas; there are lots of rituals around that event where we share time and space and joy and laughter, so really wanted to make sure that we could still do something that enabled that to happen.”

While it is an uncertain time for the live entertainment industry, Queen’s Theatre is still making plans for shows to go on stage in 2021.

“We’re incredibly optimistic here at the Queen’s and we keep finding ways to engage with our audience and our community,” Douglas said. “We made a piece that we broadcast live from the stage a couple of months ago.

“We’re planning a production in October – a new play that we’ve commissioned – which is made in a way which is Covid-secure. The actors are rehearsing separately and will only come together towards the end of the process and they’re separate on stage and it will be in a socially-distanced auditorium.”

“We keep finding these rather innovative and ingenious ways so that we can still make the work. We’ve got loads of plans for next year, we’re incredibly optimistic here.

“We’re hanging on in there, we’re working incredibly hard to ensure the survival of the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch during this very, very difficult time while the building is closed but we’re finding lots of ways to make sure that that will happen.”

For more on this story, and the latest on our other local and national news, listen to Time 107.5FM

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