The Covid pandemic led to Sleeping Beauty being “postponed” last Christmas at Salford Arts Theatre. Now, the traditional pantomime is coming back in full-force, promising lots of audience participation and laughter.
Roni Ellis, 49, runs the theatre alongside Scott T.Berry and is the director of the pantomime. She said: “It feels great [to be back], it’s exciting but there’s also a bit of anticipation I suppose with getting back to full audiences.”
From the third until the 31st December, there will be a total of 47 shows – many of which have now sold out. Roni said: “We’ve approximately sold nearly 6000 tickets!”
After what has been a difficult year for many people, locals are looking forward to attending the panto once again this Christmas. Roni said: “A lot of our audiences are returning, audiences that have come to our panto for the last ten, thirteen years – so it will be quite nice to see those people as well because I know they’ve all been eagerly waiting.”
It’s undeniable that Coronavirus has had a devastating impact on theatres and performers up and down the country. According to a survey conducted by UK Theatre and Society of London Theatre (SOLT)¹, over 95% of theatre organisations declared they were worse off because of the pandemic, with 1 in 4 freelancers now out of business (March 2021).
A separate study from December 2020² revealed that theatres and producers in the UK have lost at least £1.04 billion in box office and retail revenue since March 2020.
When considering the affect Covid had on Salford Arts Theatre, which is Salford’s only independent theatre and is usually self-funded, Roni said: “Obviously the pandemic happened and we closed which meant there was no more income, nothing.” She went on to say; “Our pantomime is our biggest earner and enables us to stay open throughout the first quarter of the year until we’ve got other bookings coming in.”
The Cultural Recovery Fund, which has provided funding for companies associated with the arts, literature and more, supported the theatre during its closure. Roni said: “We’re a relatively small organisation…It’s definitely helped us to get to where we are today.” To date, the Cultural Recovery Fund has announced £849 million of investment³.
The cast for the panto contains seven actors and two musicians. 26-year-old Rebecca Phythian, who studied musical theatre at Pendleton College in Salford, is playing the lead of Sleeping Beauty. When talking about the role, she said: “I feel like my version of Sleeping Beauty is not the typical Disney version that we all know. Put it this way- she’s a lot more Manc!”
Having acted professionally since graduating from The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts five years ago, Rebecca has greatly anticipated performing in front of a live audience again. She said: “I’ve loved every second of it, if I’m honest. I think being back in a rehearsal room, collaborating with musicians, Roni as the director and the whole cast – I’ve not taken a moment of it for granted. I just appreciate it so much more now than I ever did.”
Joe Walsh, 23, plays Danny the handyman in his first ever pantomime. He said: “There’s little things you’ve got to get used to that you just wouldn’t do in a normal play, but it’s another string to your bow.”
David Allen, 33, has two contrasting roles in the show; Candytuft, a fairy, and parody character Jacob Rees-Moggy. When talking about his fellow castmates, he said: “We all really get along – what’s great about this cast is that we all bring our strengths, there’s no weak link. Everyone is doing their bit and everyone is very supportive. It’s a nice family feeling.”
David also went on to express his passion for panto- he said: “Something I do enjoy about pantomimes is the fact you’re on a journey with the audience. You’re making them so happy and they make you happy. That’s the fun thing about it.”
Salford University graduate Megan Challinor, 23, plays wicked fairy godmother Caraborris. Also participating in her first pantomime, she said: “It’s all very new to me, it’s a really nice challenge and I’m really enjoying it! I love it.”
When discussing the experience so far, she said: “Getting back and it being so intense – and we don’t have a lot of time to rehearse before having a month of shows – it’s so fast-pace, but being thrown into it is the best thing. It just feels like I’m back home again.”
Despite the government reinforcing the wearing of masks in public spaces and on transport from the 30th November, entertainment venues like theatres are one of the few exceptions of the rule. With the help of additional funding, the theatre will be hiring a professional to film the panto to cater for anyone who might not be comfortable with watching it in person.
Once complete, the filmed version will be made accessible through the theatres’ website and social media in the near future.
You can buy the last remaining tickets to see Sleeping Beauty via the Salford Arts Theatre website: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/salfordartstheatre/sleeping-beauty-by-harry-luty-a-traditional-pantomime/e-gokkdx or call: 0161 925 0111.