Socially-distanced 'pop-up' pantomimes to save Christmas

Camilla Tominey
·2-min read
Paul Hendy, who used to present Wheel Of Fortune , warned the slapstick productions are at risk of dying out  - Pamela Raith 
Paul Hendy, who used to present Wheel Of Fortune , warned the slapstick productions are at risk of dying out - Pamela Raith
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

One of the UK’s foremost pantomime producers has vowed to “save Christmas” for millions of people by staging ‘pop up’ festive shows.

Paul Hendy, 54, who used to present the ITV gameshow Wheel Of Fortune and has been producing pantos around the UK for 15 years, warned that the slapstick productions were at risk of dying out unless some performances could be put on this December.

“We don’t want to be the ones who cancel Christmas,” he said.  “For a lot of people pantomimes are highlights of the festive season, and a lot this year will have been thinking, ‘Well at least we will still have panto’, so not having them will cap off a terrible year.  

“Instead of cancelling or postponing Christmas for them, we’d like to save it.  We are trying to make something happen.”

Mr Hendy runs Evolution Productions with his wife Emily and previous pantos have starred the likes of Stephen Mulhern, Steve McFadden, Nigel Havers, Adrian Edmonton and Vanilla Ice.  

The couple had planned to stage 10 pantomimes this year - their highest number yet - but three have already been postponed a year, and the future for the other seven is uncertain.

“This was going to be our biggest year, but now it’s looking devastating - not just for us, but for the entire industry.  It’s very upsetting, very worrying,” Mr Hendy said. 

“It looks like more of our pantos will be put back a year because it’d be very difficult to make a panto work with a socially distanced audience. 

"And you have to have a certain amount of people in to make it financially viable.  We are looking at the possibility of a pop-up panto with a reduced cast, reduced audience, maybe one set, fast-moving, maybe one hour straight through. But the closer we get to Christmas, the harder it is putting on these shows.”

Last year, pantomime ticket sales grossed over £60 million for the first time, according to data from trade association UK Theatre with around 13 per cent of British adults attending every year. The Christmas season usually brings in around 25 per cent of the annual income of smaller theatres.