For the first time in 48 years, this year’s pantomime at The Theatre Chipping Norton will not go ahead.

Postponed until 2021, the annual panto is a huge crowd pleaser with audiences travelling from across the world to experience one of the UK’s top Christmas shows.

This year’s production of Rapunzel is another cultural casualty of the coronvarius pandemic, and social distancing requirements have made it impossible for the much-loved theatre to return to business as usual.

“The annual Christmas production is by far the biggest source of income for the theatre. It usually keeps us going for the entire year”

John Terry, Theatre Director told us just how vital it is for the future of the theatre: “The importance of our annual pantomime is out of all proportion and has been 48 years in the making.

Balcony seats

“Over 18,000 people each year come through a theatre that only holds just over 200 people. Visitors from all over the country and all over the world come here to see our Christmas production.

“We have been listed in the Telegraph’s Top UK Christmas shows for eight of the last 10 years. It’s a part of many local people’s Christmases and some families have been coming for generations. It is therefore a horrible decision to have to make.”

John Terry Director at The Theatre Chipping Norton

The annual Christmas production is by far the biggest source of income for the theatre. John added: “It usually keeps us going for the entire year. Our future is now jointly in the hands of the government’s culture recovery funding, and the ever-loyal support of our local community.

“If anyone out there wants to help support the theatre through what is going to be the hardest year in it’s over four decades of existence, please see our website for details about our ‘Head Above Water’ campaign.”

He added: “As a nation we all love panto and it’s very British institution – unruly chaos and satire beneath an apparently tame surface. Arguably, it also plays into our national inclination towards drag, dressing-up and carnival. Rapunzel, this year’s pantomime, has been postponed to Christmas 2021, and we are transferring existing bookers into the new dates, and will then put the show on sale for everyone to book.”

So what happens next at The Theatre Chipping Norton and what can audiences expect in the coming months? 

John added: “We have some cunning plans up our sleeve for possible ‘pop-up panto’ type ideas to keep the Christmas spirit going this year, so everyone should watch this space!

The Theatre Chipping Norton

We are going ahead with a full line-up of our Take Part participatory work – all of our workshops and classes. Some will be held online, others in-person. We know that people have been really missing these creative and social activities, so details are now on our website.

We also plan to open for a slimmed down cinema programme from mid-September.”

During lockdown many theatres and theatrical companies have taken their productions online, including Chipping Norton. You can read our story about The Contagion Cabaret here.

So what about the future of our theatres?

John added: “It has to be live. Streaming and online content works up to a point, but the audience is quite small and the costs quite large. Also – it’s not what we are best at. Our skills are in bringing communities together to enjoy and experience something in each other’s company. To move and to excite with something unique and one-off. We have to find a way of making live performance financially viable again.”

To support The Theatre Chipping Norton’s Head Above Water Campaign go to https://www.chippingnortontheatre.com

THE OXFORD PLAYHOUSE WILL MAKE A DECISION ABOUT ITS CHRISTMAS PANTO IN SEPTEMBER.

Sarah Edwards

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